Airbnb Back on Chopping Block in Raleigh

By Brent Woodcox

On Tuesday, the city of Raleigh’s Health Neighborhoods Committee will meet to consider a long languishing proposal to restrict and regulate the operation of short term rentals (i.e. Airbnb and VRBO) in Raleigh.

There has been an ongoing debate over the last 5 years or more about what to do about short term rentals in the city. Technically, they are banned under Raleigh’s current laws but that ban has been only selectively enforced and hundreds of short term rentals continue the operate. In June of 2017, city councilors flat out rejected a compromise proposal offered by a committee made up of their own citizen appointees.

After the last election in October of 2017, the new council majority as one of its first promises out of the gate promised to address the regulatory rules for Airbnb. That discussion has mostly taken place out of the public eye for the last year or more. But Tuesday’s meeting will change that as a new proposal will be discussed by city councilors who sit on the committee.

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So to hit the highlights (or rather the lowlights) of this proposal, here are a few key take aways:

  1. No whole house short term rentals

  2. A limit of two rooms that can be rented

  3. The owner of the short term rental must be present overnight during the guests’ stay

  4. No more than 4 adults may stay in the short term rental at any time

  5. No apartment short term rentals except in mixed use districts

  6. In most residential zoning districts, short term rentals cannot be located within a certain distance from each other

  7. First to apply for a permit qualifies. If another short term rental is too close to you then you are out of luck.

As you can see, these rules are extremely complicated and highly restrictive. They don’t seem to be tied to any actual problems that current short term rentals have been reported to be causing. They’re just regulations for the sake of regulations.

Which brings me to my central question about these proposed new rules. What problem is this solving? Who is demanding such overreaching regulations on property owners that will make it more or less impossible to operate 70% or more of the currently operating short term rentals in the city?

These rules are modeled off of Asheville’s restrictions on short term rentals. Those rules have been a complete disaster for Asheville. The laws are blatantly ignored and basically unenforceable for the city. No city in North Carolina has more short term rentals operating than Asheville and the new rules have done nothing to change that.

Also, if Raleigh does actually expect to enforce these rules, who does the city do when the next International Bluegrass festival or other big event comes into town? We are already a city that lacks hotel rooms to satisfy demand at it highest peak. How will the city replace this available supply of short term accommodations if it turns the majority of short term rental operators into criminals for renting out their own property? What effect will decreased tourism and nights stayed in Raleigh have on local small businesses and restaurants that depend on people visiting from out of town?

The whole short term rental debacle is a five year study of a solution in search of problem. Raleigh city councilors should throw Asheville’s failed model on the scrap heap of bad ideas and start over with a focus on how to make our city more hospitable to people visiting from out of town and supportive of short term rental hosts who tend to be some of the best marketers of Raleigh that our city has to offer.

Brent Woodcox