How one person creates short term rental regulations for a whole city

Being an Airbnb host is often a funny thing. It is a very unique situation — a unique kind of business. Having people come and stay with you in your own home — it’s a very personal, even intimate kind of business. You can end up making good friends with people you may never otherwise have met. You can learn much more about people than you ever would have learned or known, had you not had a chance to learn their kitchen cleaning or non-cleaning habits. You can learn their foibles and idiosyncrasies, as they may learn yours, and you can share their joy and delight and see your own world with fresh eyes when someone from the other side of the world tells you how they are experiencing your neighborhood.

There is another kind of uniqueness to being an Airbnb host, and that is, that we weren’t something that cities thought of.
Cities’ lack of thought about us, seems to be a relatively new forgetfulness, since 100 years ago, 200 years ago, and certainly 500 years ago, many or most people who traveled, stayed in private homes when they traveled. Medieval guest house twoThis wasn’t seen as odd. There were no neighbors back then out picketing and complaining and writing to their city council, about how those Airbnb medieval voyagers parked their horse-drawn carriage in front of my home, or smoked a pipe in my cornfield.
Seems we got something right then that we have now forgotten. Somewhere along the way, something called “ZONING” happened, and new things called inns and hotels started taking the traveler business away from the private homes, and cities started cementing this compartmentalization of traveler into increasingly box-like rooms in hotels, via their “zoning.”

Many cities developed regulations about where “hotels” could be located, which kept them in “Commerical ” districts. Airbnb didn’t exist then, and neither did the “sharing economy”, so these regulations didn’t actually address having guests in a private home. They dealt with hotels. Motel 6

So now, along comes Airbnb, and the rise of home sharing, and the city sees a lot of people starting to have travelers at their home again — just like the good old days! But the city doesn’t remember those good old days. It only sees through a narrow set of regulations, that dont’ even directly address this phenomenon. THe regulations are for “hotels.” Many hosts would argue, and argue coherently, that we are not “hotels.” Neither are the Hyatt Regency or the Flamingo Inn someone’s private home that they have opened up to guests. In fact, though some cities (and some disgruntled neighbors within these cities) insist that we are “commerical operations” if we have guests, a Colorado Court has recently affirmed that having guests in one’s home, is a RESIDENTIAL use of one’s home, and is NOT a commerical use of the home. (See this thread about that — )

So we often fall in between the cracks, and cities actually have no existing laws to address home sharing. Or, the laws that exist, are challenged by many to be backward, and to represent a stage of culture that may be on its way out.

Thus, many cities have yet to take up the issue of home sharing and create regulations that are in step with modern times and the reality that home sharing is not going away. Yet in many municipalities, there may be forces that are arrayed against home sharing, which political pressure city leaders may feel obligated to address.

Which brings me back to the title of this thread. How one person creates short term rental regulations for a whole city. Who is that person, you ask? Well, if you are very fortunate, that person is you, or another Airbnb host. Ideally it is the first host in the city who starts working with the city and/or with other hosts to get the ball rolling to develop favorable regulations. But , it may also turn out, and this has happened in some cities, that it is NOT the host who is the one to create short term rental regs for that city — instead it is that hosts’ neighbor.

You see, that host had a guest. Or make that, several guests. Actually it was supposed to be 4 guests, staying at a 3 bedroom home, with a huge yard, and an ocean view, located in an exclusive, upscale neighborhood of a desirable city…but it turned out to be 75 guests, staying at, partying in, boozing it up in, blasting loud music all over, and vomiting in the backyard next to the neighbors’ fence, in that host’s home. party all nightNot to mention the police cars that arrived later on and drew still more attention to the whole affair. And then, the person who the city council heard from, and heard from again, and again, and again, in numerous letters and several council meetings in sequence, for several months, was not the host, but that hosts’ neighbor.

You get my point, I hope. It has been made clear in many cities, that the city leaders are far more receptive to one neighbor’s complaint about one hosts’ bad guests, than they are to 400 hosts whose neighbors never complained about their guests. That one party incident may go a long, LONG way towards creating short term rental regulations in that city. Now if the city leaders are reasonable people who are already openminded and aware of the reality that “the sharing economy is here to stay”, this problem may not arise. But if city leaders are less open, and want any excuse to ban short term rentals in their city or town, it is quite possible that such city leaders will seize on that disgruntled neighbor’s lament, the way that a child’s fist clamps down around some delicious candy it received on a special day. That one neighbor’s complaint can go a long way. Particularly if that neighbor starts rallying other neighbors behind him or her. So now it’s not just one complaint –it’s 5. Still, when it’s a score of 5 vs 400 , in a city with city councilmembers tilted to the wrong direction, the 5 will win. And then quite possibly, the city will say no, no Airbnb in our town.

In fact, quite recently, this exact situation came to pass.  In the town of Danville, California (a town with only 15-20 Airbnb hosts), one single instance of a neighborhood feud caused the neighbors of an Airbnb host to get so upset at her, that they collectively worked together, and pushed the town to ban short term rentals.  The host’s guests in this case actually did not cause any problems, other than that very trivial issue of perhaps parking in front of someone else’s home, but the host had poor interpersonal skills, and intentionally did many things to rile her neighbors and upset them.  And so now no one in her entire town of 16,000 can do short term rentals.  See more about that situation here: Danville Bans Short Term rentals .

So the moral of the story is — be careful in how you host. Do good screening for guests, have good house rules in place that you can effectively enforce, be in control of what happens at your property, be attentive to your neighbors’ needs, make sure the neighbors have your contact info. And dont let your angry neighbor be the one who creates short term rental regulations for your whole city!!


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