Letter writer: Regulate short-term rentals, don’t ban them

Graphic by Lori Deaton

As a seasonal visitor to Asheville, I have followed with interest and shock as I read about the changes in the rules of short-term rentals. For eight years, I have rented a cottage in Montford for a two-month period during the summer, so I don’t fall into the one-month minimum rental question.

But I’ve seen several places over the years that I’ve considered staying at, not just for my two-month rental, but also if I decide to come up for a week-long trip at a different time of the year—because I was very happy with my two-month rental. Most of these were small cottages, above-garage rentals or studio-size places that were like garden apartments with their own entrances. The owners all lived on the property in their home and the places were immaculately kept up. And most were rented out on less than a one-month basis, often in between rents that were one month or longer.

For some, these short-term rentals kept the owners financially alive — plus, they all loved doing it. Few of them knew about the one-month minimum, something that I came to learn. These were alternatives to staying at a hotel, and with hotel prices being pretty high in Asheville, they were even more attractive, because the affordable hotels aren’t that nice or they are a ways from downtown. And I am sure that the hotels do not give the personal care that you get from a private rental. Or maybe only the rich get to afford that special care when they stay at high-end hotel? Isn’t that really what is going on here?

Every week I read the Mountain Xpress, and when I read about the new rental rules, my first suspicion was, “Who wrote these rules — the local hotels and those being built?” These new rules limiting these short-term rentals of less than a month are a gift to the hotels. I wonder if the new hotels being built even made it an unwritten agreement between the city and the new hotel owners that such requirements be made to get them to build a new hotel in the city. It smells like corruption, and it probably is at its worst, but it’s undue influence at its best. We all know the mantra of city managers across the U.S.: Increase the tax base. And that’s what hotels do. And it appears that’s even if it means killing the goose that laid golden egg.

It’s the hotel owners and builders and developers who are beginning to control this city. Where were they when downtown Asheville was boarded up and barely alive — when the lower-income people — those on the ground and in the streets — were bringing the city back to life? Now that’s it’s alive, these developers all want in, and some people are getting down and kissing their feet. How shocked I was to return this year and see all the hotels going up downtown. It could be the death knell of the golden egg. And to top it all off, I hear about this war on short-term rentals.

The excuse given was that these new rules would help solve the low vacancy rate of rentals in the city while helping to lower rental prices. No, they won’t — but they will raise the hotel room rates. Lower long-term rental rates? Are you kidding? Does the city expect the public to believe that? Or do the city planners and administration, who are often out of touch with what’s happening on the ground, expect people to believe — because the planners must know what they are doing since they are “experts” who are trained and educated in how everything works — that this will have a significant effect?

If you don’t watch it, these educated planners will screw things up. They’ve done it in the past, and they’ll do it again. (Remember when planners’ ideal was shopping malls and chain restaurants surrounded by parking?) They are hired for their opinions in building a city, not to run it. God save us from the city planners who think they have all the answers. And keep this in mind: These hired planners are in a high-income bracket and have a different point of view from many of these small rental owners.

Anyone who thinks that restricting the tiny number of homeowner short-term rentals out there — that are all very small in size —will raise the vacancy rate of long-term rentals is either bought off, stupid or just deluded. Raise the vacancy rate? No. Again—it will raise the hotel room rates. Doesn’t that make you suspicious?

And the minimum size for a home to allow someone to rent a room out is 2,500 square feet? I can see a minimum, but 2,500 square feet is going to hurt a lot of the lower-income people who really need the income more than those who can afford a 2,500-square-foot home. Do you want to help lower-income people or not? Because low income is the real cause of a low vacancy rate for low-income housing everywhere in U.S. How many of these planners have homes smaller than 2,500 square feet? They probably think 2,500 is small.

You want to help people? Allow them a couple of short-term rentals on their property, even if it’s a separate building, limiting the number just to keep the density down. Lower the minimum to maybe 1,800 square feet … Allow people to rent out their place and go on vacation for a week or two, but have some limits. Limit the number of people allowed per rental so you don’t get too many who come to just party for a week sharing a small rental; also limit the number of cars per rental.

These are just some of the rules that can be established to manage this situation, but blanket make it illegal? God save us from those who want that. Or is it becoming too gentrified? (What I call “gentrified” when it gets overdone.) Yes — we can’t have people on small lots build cottages just for short-term rentals if it hurts the neighborhood, but allow those who already have them to be grandfathered in — that is the only fair thing. And allow it on bigger lots where it would work. But compromise, not blatantly make it illegal. What about all those who depend on these rentals for survival? Are they just being thrown out, while giving developers everything they want?

Then I heard the city was going to hire someone at $60,000 a year to enforce these new rules (and fines). He or she will be real popular. Is the city going to title the position the “Big Brother” job? That would be appropriate. Will he carry a gun? Well maybe I am being extreme, but all laws are ultimately enforced by someone with one.

And then I heard about people turning their neighbors in. Have these people no shame? Those people should be cowering from shame. I remember the early days of the Soviet empire where neighbors turned neighbors in. Back in the ‘50s and ‘60s, we were all told that was evil. Let’s not make these people heroes. Are we turning into that? Has Asheville lost its way?

Take that $60,000 and create some better rules. Use $60,000/year in the coming years to help these people who are doing short-term rentals do it better.

Asheville, I am greatly disappointed that you would allow this to happen.

— Steve Morrell
Bradenton, Fla.

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9 thoughts on “Letter writer: Regulate short-term rentals, don’t ban them

  1. Lulz

    LOL, I got a better solution. The city can go take a flying leap off a bridge lulz.

  2. NFB

    “Asheville, I am greatly disappointed that you would allow this to happen.”

    Sorry, but Asheville is not your little playground, it is our home. There are plenty of places for tourists to stay but precious few places for residents to live. We are facing a crisis in affordable housing and that should take precedent. Asheville has been putting too much emphasis on tourism in recent years and its low wages make ir difficult for residents to live here. It is time we started thinking about the people who live here first.

    • Juan Holladay

      For quite a few who live on the lower cusp of the middle class, running a short term rental is the most viable way of preventing foreclosure.

      • Hmm

        If you are running a short term rental that is not a home-stay, this means you have a second home in Asheville, which means you are not lower cusp of middle class.

        • Juan Holladay

          Please, define what qualifies a person to be in the lower cusp of the middle class. I would say, if you owe more than you own, you might be on the lower edge of the middle class.

        • STR Myths

          Hello Hmm, you are grossly mistaken. Almost no one is able to qualify for a Homestay with the current UDO Article 16 –or- with the proposed changes coming before Council on the 17th. With that, almost all people renting rooms/spaces out of their house/property call their operations short term rentals. You do NOT qualify for a Homestay, if: your home is less than 2500 square feet; you cannot provide onsite parking in the rear of your property that is also screened by a fence yet not in the setback; you do not provide refreshments like an evening snack; the room you rent has anything assimilated with a kitchen; you do not have a site survey of your property (estimated $750); your property setbacks are non-conforming due to high density like in the Five Points neighborhood; your property has modifications not recorded in the permit office regardless if it was prior to your ownership, etc.

  3. Yep

    The STR thing is about to become less cumbersome due to the immense backlash of those who value their private property rights.
    State law, thankfully, keeps it in check as of now. Now, they’re offering the ability to build tiny houses on one’s property too. With the coming uber recession, people will be even more clamoring to stay wherever they can. Intown becomes WAY more valuable.

    • The Real World

      Yep – Agree about the uber recession but I didn’t follow your line of thinking after the comma. Pls explain.

      When the USA goes into the next recession, if it is a deep or prolonged one, this tourist-dependent town will be hit very hard b/c traveling and dining out are an easy things to cut for tight budgets. So, plenty of businesses will close and leave people unemployed and strapped for cash. Like the last time, lots of people will leave to other cities/states that have the jobs. It will create a glut of homes on the market with few buyers around b/c jobs are scare and that will drive down prices.

      • Lulz

        LOL, yet many here complain that the area is becoming a playground for the wealthy lulz. Ironically by having to raise taxes and property values coupled with gentrification, the town will come through the next recession. But gentrification will eventually end because there’s only so many people that can afford it. In the meantime though, expect more PINO’s selling out to big money interests. McCormick Field could eventually see a sponsor for example. Along with a lot of things that many here won’t agree with lulz.

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