The trend toward communities reviewing, changing or creating regulations governing short-term rentals is increasingly visible to us at HomeAway®. Often regulations are fair to owners and property managers, travelers and the local communities, but to ensure this, local leaders need input from the community.
One observation we can make is when local owners and property managers organize early to take a unified stand for the way their community should regulate short-term rentals to local governments, they can expect a better result than if they delay creating a plan.
As your community begins to engage in the discussion of regulations, it is important to follow best practices and embrace a positive, transparent, solutions-oriented and data-driven strategy.
There are a variety of reasons why the discussions of regulations emerges, and it’s difficult to predict a single event, or combination of events, that might make your town start down the regulation path. However, some examples we have seen include local officials being squeezed for tax revenue or someone in the city reporting an issue with a guest. Sometimes, the originator of the discussion may be an elected official or city staffer who has seen this conversation occur in another community or perhaps a member of the community is driven by an attitude of “not in my backyard.” Often these public discussions do not receive a high-level of publicity; thus, it catches short-term rental owners and property managers by surprise.
There are many arguments used by opponents against short-term rentals, but the most common to note include:
- Short- term rental owners do not pay their taxes: not every community has taxes on short-term rentals, but most do. When you rent short term and fail to collect and remit occupancy taxes, you support this argument. Make sure you pay your taxes should your community require it.
- The neighborhood is harmed by having short-term rentals and their occupants: There are many variants here, but the most common arguments is short-term rentals increase noise (party houses), are rented to people the neighbors don’t know, drive up property values and chase families out of neighborhoods, etc.
- Commercial activity in non-commercial neighborhoods: the use of a single family home for a short-term rental makes that property a hotel, or a bed and breakfast, and those are commercial activities, whereas the use of that same property for a rental more than 30 days is a residential use.
- Reduces housing stock for the community: a property used for short-term rental does not have a family living in it, and takes away an opportunity for another family to move in.
Our point here is local supporters of short-term rentals never know what could start the conversation, but once the conversation starts, you can expect to see one or even all of these arguments come up.
So what can you do to ensure that when the conversation starts, you and other supporters of short- term rentals in your area are ready?
It’s important to organize early before opponents can frame the discussion in the wrong way. Taking a proactive approach and uniting the stakeholders in the community early has shown time and again to be a successful strategy.
Whether in Hawaii, Carmel, Austin or Niagara-on-the-Lake, organization often started when an owner called a property manager, who called another, who emailed some owners. And, a local alliance began.
Alliances benefit from involving groundskeepers, cleaning companies and repeat tenants- all the individuals and businesses that contribute to a healthy, local economy. Many times the local alliances included other promoters of the local tourism industry; the local Convention and Visitors Bureaus and boards of directors of Airport Authorities and civic arenas, major event planners, Chambers of Commerce and real estate associations. In one example, the local alliance found strong support from the beneficiaries of the Hotel Occupancy Taxes (or Transient Taxes) including the Convention Center, art and music festivals and cultural groups.
Once a local alliance was created, some communities even identified businesses dependent on short-term rentals; festival production and other project-based industries.
In Hawaii, the Rent by Owner Awareness Association along with property owners and supporters, organized to oppose State legislation. To help build their effort, they started a Facebook page, which enabled them to communicate openly.
In Austin, a webpage was launched where supporters could follow the progress and find direction to get involved.
In many cities, local alliances found great success by using HomeAway’s Community page, where they were able to exchange details and establish a unified strategy.
As stated before, successful organizations have relied on a strategy including four key points: positive, transparent, solutions-oriented and data-driven.
Successful alliances have relied on best practices (using examples from other communities) and language from best practice organizations such as the United States Conference of Mayors, which unanimously passed a resolution regarding short-tem rentals last year stating,
“The U.S. Conference of Mayors urges support for economic development opportunities through the visitors industry by encouraging regulations of the short-term rental industry that (1) establish a reliable way for the municipality to identify and contact the short-term rental owner; (2) make the tax collection and remittance obligations clear to the short-term rental owner; and (3) treat short-term rental tenants the same as long-term rental tenants. Regulations that accomplish all three can achieve a high level of compliance, and are highly effective.”
Other alliances have launched websites in support of fair regulations, listing individual and local organizations, business endorsements and providing direction to supporters on how to take action.
Additionally, community members working with City Staff in Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, Indio and Palm Springs created their own local ordinances, which provided a greater level of compliance and an enforcement mechanism for city staff that resulted in a much higher return on Hotel Oriented Taxes (or Transient Taxes).
When activating support, some communities have developed a communication strategy to notify supporters of important dates or action. For example, in New York City, a local alliance provides direction to supporters on how to voice their opinion. This often includes letters of support, emails, phone calls or online petitions.
When activating a local alliance, it is important to maintain an image that reflects the positive, transparent, solutions-oriented and data-driven strategy used. Choosing a look and feel of a webpage, language for emails of support, or suggested scripts for phone calls, should all reflect positivity.
AFTER ACHIEVING FAIR AND APPROPRIATE REGULATION
Once the local alliance and supporters have achieved a fair and appropriate regulation, it is important to stay organized, maintain a strong level of community involvement, self-regulate and follow the local laws. This local alliance may have reasons to activate in the future, and can play an important role in the community. By following laws – including payment of all necessary taxes – the members of the alliance create a data-stream that can be positively used in any future discussions.
Local governments will continue to regulate short-term rentals as the industry continues to grow, but you can help create a fair and appropriate regulation by relying on best practices and maintaining a strategy that is positive, transparent, solutions-oriented and data-driven.
Of course, HomeAway is always available to help. The office of government relations can provide advice and examples for a community to develop a local alliance. Email Matt Curtis (firstname.lastname@example.org), HomeAway's Director of Government Relations, with any questions, and watch this webinar for further details.