Note: This is an edited transcript of Christine Karpinski's How To Rent Vacation Properties by Owner podcast .
Host: Christine Karpinski
Guest: Melinda DiPerna, a property manager and owner of three vacation rental homes: a coastal cottage in Midcoast, Maine, a golf condo in Palm Desert, California, and a beach condo in Oceanside, California.
- How to work together with other homeowners to oppose a proposed ban
- Why rental bans get proposed
- The process of overturning a rental ban
- The benefits of being involved in your Homeowner's Association
- The process of voting on a vacation rental ban
- How to avoid vacation rental ban proposals
and how it came about?
Melinda: Sure. I own a condo at Palm Valley Country club in Palm Desert, California, and I bought that in the spring of 2005. When I bought that condo, I read the CC&Rs, I checked the minutes of the meetings, I looked at the local ordinances, I paid my property taxes and my transient occupancy taxes, and ran quite smoothly there for a year.
Then one day when I walked out to the mailbox, I found a letter in it. And it said, "In a month we will be sending you a ballot and that ballot will ask the community to vote on whether to ban rentals of 30 days or less." Imagine my surprise! My hands started shaking. I thought, "Oh my goodness, this is my livelihood," because this condo I did buy as an investment and there was no way I could afford it without renting it out.
Christine: Wow, so what did you do next?
#Melinda: The next thing I did, after I calmed down, was to e-mail my HOA to find out what was happening, and then to call and talk to the general manager and find out what the reasoning was behind this. The next thing I did was to get on VRBO and HomeAway and all the other rental listing sites, and to start to gather the names, telephone numbers, and e-mail addresses of owners who rent to start to network with them, to see if we have any power in numbers, and to see if there was anything we could do.
Christine: And were you successful in gathering homeowners' names, email addresses, and contact information, or did VRBO send out something on your behalf?
Melinda: I didn't ask VRBO to do that. I did it the hard way.
Christine: Okay, so here is the deal just for our listeners: here at HomeAway, and VRBO, the Owner Community, we serve this purpose. If you have an impending ban, let me know, and we can send out an e-mail on your behalf. We obviously have to have proof and all those sorts of things. We have to make sure it is truly an impending ban and what the issues are, but we can The specified article was not found., so don't be afraid to e- mail us and let us know. We are here to help; we are all in this industry together.
Melinda: They were wonderful. They were fantastic. We had one in particular that has about 80 units, he actually has a physical building right outside our country club and he had already sent a letter to all of his owners, but then he also sent another one requesting that they contact us, that they contribute money, that they get on our email loop so that we could all be in communication, because remember at this point, we felt that we might even have as few as 60 days to beat this rental ban. That's hard, to get a lot of independent owners who live all across the country, and even the world, together to fight something.
#Christine: Okay, do you know what the motivation was for this ban in the first place? I imagine some homeowners that live there were griping. Is that what it was?
Melinda: It's kind of interesting. We looked in the history because we thought we might have to go forward with a lawsuit at one point. We looked to find out if there was any record of any complaint, or should we have seen this coming, were we doing something wrong? And when it came right down to it, what it really consisted of was people talking on the golf course, people talking at dinner, somebody complaining, 'Oh, there were people shooting balls on the golf course last night or into the lake.' More anecdotal type stories that were annoyances.
Christine: And there's no guarantees that those are renters all the time.
Melinda: You took the words out of my mouth. That is what we ended up finding later. I later served on a committee for the HOA about this, and one of the things that we found was we couldn't track whether these were renters or guests of owners. The community is only occupied by about 30% of homeowners full-time, year-round, because it is in the desert and it gets kind of hot in the summer. And then another, say 30‑50%, are seasonal residents or vacation home users, leaving a small portion that are actually vacation rental owners. But like in most communities, people kind of fear what they are not, and they assume that it was vacation rental guests causing the problem.
Christine: I find that true in a lot of aspects of life. A lot of times people fear the unknown.
But, certainly what you did was you took your anger and you turned it into positive energy and really worked toward the cause. But what I really want to ask is...how much did this all cost?
Melinda: Well, the first mailing that we made, one of our owners is a realtor and has her own office so she donated the time and the supplies and all we had to pay for were the postage costs, so the math of 1,300 units times 30 cents. Then we got some additional funding throughout, and I just found out yesterday that we've got about $100 left in the account.
So we sent out, I believe it was, two or three mass mailings, and we also used the funds to conference call our steering committee. And the rest of the materials and labor we really got in kind because many of the owners are small business owners and were willing to work with us that way.
But it wasn't something that I could have done as one person, or that I would have liked to have done. I guess I could have because when you're looking at a condo that costs half a million dollars, that's a big investment to lose. The real estate market was starting to soften at that time and the thought of a lot of condos going up for sale because they could no longer rent them just sounded disastrous to me.
Christine: You know, that's a great point, is that if something like this does happen, it affects everybody's property value and just to let those permanent residents know, it affects their values as well. Properties in complexes or HOAs where they allow vacation rentals, those properties typically have a higher appreciation rate, their values hold stronger because the affordability of that property with the ability to rent it out definitely gets factored in. If all of a sudden they banned vacation rentals, all these properties would go on the market at the same time and it just would not be good for anybody.
Melinda: It's funny to hear you say that, and I know that to be true, but there are a lot of owners out there, and I quote from the 2000 HOA meeting, it was suggested that an overabundance of rental units bring down property value. So a lot of it, we found out as I worked on this ad hoc leasing committee over the last year, was communication and information and de‑bunking old myths. Because we kept hearing over and over again, "Gee if all property owners were like you and a few of the others, we wouldn't have any problems here," and we said, "You know what, most property owners are like that." And most guests are just like you. We don't want anyone partying and overcrowding and ruining our golf course and doing anything to our properties any more than you do.
Melinda: Well you know what, it's like anything: 99% of the people are receptive and want to be educated, and there's that 1% that makes you cry, that sends a nasty e-mail or "How did you get my address? Don't send me anything else," but the majority of the people were happy to be educated because they understood that we weren't telling them to do things our way, we were just trying to educate them that we should have this right and with that right comes responsibility and we're willing to live up to our responsibility.
#Christine: Right. Now when it came to the actual process I suppose you then all had to go for a vote, and do you know if money was a motivator at all with regards to possibly opposing the ban? I've sat on HOA boards, and I know that it's very costly to amend your homeowners' association documents. One community that I sat on, it was about $30,000 to record, rewrite, because it all has to go through attorneys and so it's a very costly endeavor as well to amend your HOA documents. Was that brought up at all in any of the arguments?
Melinda: Well, I think what happened was early 2006, the board had decided that they were going to bring our CC&Rs up to date as they said, and our rules and regulations. And they chose first a signed amendment, which had to do with for rent and for sale signs, and they decided to include this ban in the same amendment. We got them to split them out because it became pretty clear after a week of phone calls that we weren't going to sit silently by and let this happen, and we said, we're not opposed to limiting the way people do signage, that's not the way business is done anymore anyway, but we are opposed to losing our rights to rent and rent responsibly.
But anyway, so they were in the process of changing CC&Rs and they decided to send this out and it's interesting, one board member still contends that he feels this was a good effort because it got our attention. And to some extent he has that point, when you have any HOA group that most of the residents don't live on‑site, it is hard to get us to go to their meetings. It's a hardship to get us to go to the annual meeting which was the one thing I would say, "Shame on me."
Shame on all of us, because we weren't there at the annual HOA meeting in 2006 when this first idea was presented. And we were all there in 2007, I'll tell you that, even though we had to rent hotel rooms to stay there.
#Christine: We actually lived in a neighborhood in Atlanta that had a very strong HOA. It was amazing that even permanent residents don't show up to the annual meeting. You have to have a quorum in order to have a vote, and I'm finding more and more people are showing up.
And kudos to the homeowner's associations as well. A lot of times, what they're doing is that they're having neighborhood meet‑and‑greet weekends on their annual homeowners weekend. It becomes a whole, big party and everybody gets to meet everybody. There are covered dish suppers and drinks and all those sorts of things so that everybody can get to know each other. It's really, really, really important to go to your HOA meetings.
Melinda: You know, I have to give a great example of an HOA that does this. I do own a place down at Oceanside, CA. They had a lot of friction, I guess, ten years ago, before I owned there, between vacation rental owners and permanent residents.
They do a really smart thing, among other things, now, that they do smart. They hold a post‑season party. After the busy summer season, they have a post‑season party. That way, it's not a hardship on anyone. It's a more relaxed, less crowded time.
They also hold a holiday party, and it's kind of like what you're talking about. Although it's not a meet‑and‑greet, bring your own, it's something that we all contribute to. It gives us a time to get together when it's not a hardship on any owner. It's really a fantastic community. It's a great example of the HOA, the permanent residents, and the rental owners working together.
They've got something there that is kind of my example for anyone. They have a rental owner's coalition. The sole purpose of that group, now, is to deal with issues with rentals. They both protect their interest, but also work with the HOA and work with the permanent residents. They understand that there is a cost associated when suddenly, you have another 500 units occupied in the summertime. It does change their lifestyle. If you live there year‑round, it could bug you. All of a sudden, the pool is full. And somebody parked in your one‑and‑only spot, yeah. There are a lot of issues that we, as the owners, have to take responsibility for, and recognize that we are impacting those people there who make that their home year‑round.
Christine: As you're talking about this, all I see, I mean, yes, there were negatives that happened, but I see a lot of positives. I bet you met a whole bunch of owners that you didn't know before. I bet you now know a little bit more about each other.You're probably friends with some of these people now. Is that true?
I've gotten to know other rental owners who I can count as friends, one who has become a very close friend. At our HOA meeting back in February, we had a rental owner cocktail group before the meeting that night. Just to get together and give ourselves a pat on the back. To say, "Let's keep this friendship going." We even chuckled and said, "In 20 years, will we be the retirees living here, saying 'those doggone rental owners'?"
The board then had the discretion to stop the vote, but they decided to go forward with it. I'm sure some of it was legally motivated, because they could have been sued by the other side, that they didn't do due process. They continued through, to find out. In the meantime, remember that we had an ad‑hoc committee going now, working with the HOA.
They sent out another ballot, and eventually, they had a deadline for that one, too. So they sent out a second ballot to people who had not yet voted. It came back, and it was a close margin that we won by. We called it the "Vote No on Three" measure. The signage restrictions passed, and the rental restrictions were voted down by a narrow margin, which is really good news, but it also sent a clear message to us that we couldn't just sit back and put our feet up. I was just on the phone with our property manager for our HOA, or general manager, I think that's what they call her. We do still have ongoing work, and we have made recommendations.
When you are voting for your HOA you need to look at who these people are and what they do with regards to their homes. A lot of people tend to say, "I'm going to choose the person that lives there because they're there and they've got more time and blah, blah, blah." It's not always the best choice for you. You need to look at somebody that's going to represent you and your common interests.
Why wouldn't you call somebody or e-mail them and contact them to find out what their agenda is? Why are they running for the board? What do they think that they're going to do? There are people that run for their own agenda and you might be empowering them to do so by voting for them. Then there are others that truly have the vast majority in mind when they run. It's just something that we all sort of get those ballots in the mail, we're busy with other things in our lives, it's not our primary residence, but these things make all the difference in the world.
Well, Melinda, thank you so much for joining us and for giving us all this information. I think it will be great for other people to listen to your experiences and hopefully learn from you.
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© Copyright HomeAway, Inc. 2007
Published: March 9, 2007