Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated how much money the city of Asheville is spending to contract with a company to enforce short term rental regulations. The correct amount is $26,618.

The quest to find, and stop, property owners illegally renting out their property online via short term rental sites such as Airbnb is a tedious game of cat and mouse, city staff told Asheville City Council on Tuesday night.

City Council members asked for an update on the city’s enforcement efforts last month as they discussed clamping down on short term rentals in West Asheville and the River Arts District. Several council members are concerned about the impact of Asheville’s booming short term rental market on the availability of affordable housing, as well as on city infrastructure. Since 2015, City Council has ramped up enforcement of city rules regarding short term rentals, increased fines and also loosened rules allowing people to rent a room of the home they live in.

“Our biggest challenge to reaching zero (illegal short term rentals) is our inability to identify all properties operating illegally,” city planner Shannon Tuch told City Council. Online listings are vague, computer software used to crawl the Internet and match listings with addresses only goes so far and city staffers don’t have a lot of time to actually hit the streets and eyeball properties to make a match.

A few highlights from Tuesday’s staff report:

-City staff issued about 10 notices of violation for short-term rentals per month prior to 2017. Beginning in 2017, staff has issued an average of 42 notices of violation per month.

-The number of violations is down from earlier staff reports of 72 violation notices per month because of a normalization of activity following heavy enforcement and limited resources after enforcement duties were moved from one city department to another.

-The total number of short term rental listings on sites like Airbnb hovers around 1,000. The city has identified between 600 and 700 of those units.

-Of the total noticed violations, 17.2 percent start with citizen complaints. The other 82.9 percent of the violations have been  identified by city staff with the help of a company the city contracts with called Host Compliance. (The city is spending $26,618 of taxpayers’ money on this contract.)

-There are about 548 active homestay permits; most of these permits were issued after amending the city’s rules around homestays in November 2015.

(The rules right now: rental of a property within the City of Asheville for less than 30 days is considered a short-term rental. Rental of an entire home/apartment on a short-term basis is not allowed in residential districts and some commercial districts. Rental of private rooms in a house on a short-term basis (a homestay) is allowed with a permit from the city. The rental of units separate from a house, called an accessory dwelling unit, on a short-term basis is not allowed.)

The numbers left some Asheville City Council members still itching for more information, and ready for more action.

“I think one of the questions that isn’t answered is whether what we’re doing now gets us to where we’re going” in terms of zero illegal short term rentals, Councilman Gordon Smith said.

“I see the trend line, but I didn’t see that answer,” he said, adding that council has yet to formulate any new policy around another burgeoning issue: more and more properties converting to short term rentals in areas of the city where those rentals are legal.

Councilwoman Gwen Wisler said “we are hearing that there are commercial properties flipping into housing rentals,” with people converting small business and some condos into short term rentals. “I would support getting data on that,” she said.

Tuch responded that she’s worked with staff to get those numbers, but it’s difficult because of limitations to the way the city tracks permits.

Wisler said that wasn’t good enough.

“This isn’t good. If this is what’s happening, we need to address it,” Wisler said. I don’t think the city can take a pass because we don’t have all the data. I think we move forward.”

City Councilwoman Julie Mayfield wanted clarification.

“Did I hear you say projects that have come in and approved as apartments or condos are coming back and changing applications so that same building will be short term rentals,” she asked Tuch.

Yes, Tuch replied. Some apartment or condo projects are converting to a combination of rooms for short term rental and rooms for regular apartments/condos, with the goal of staying under the city’s 20-room regulation for lodging review, Tuch said. (Earlier this year, City Council adopted regulations requiring any lodging use of 20 or more rooms to come before council for final approval.) Also, multi-family structures are coming in and asking for approval of units for short term rental.

Mayfield suggested on quick policy fix: revisit that 20 room limit and perhaps do away with it.

Mayfield also wanted to know “is there not a mechanism of someone posing as a renter to get that info” of who is operating an illegal short term rental?

Tuch said the company the city contracts with for enforcement does not do that.

 

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20 Comments

  1. “STR’s do not affect affordable housing in any meaningful way. There is NO proof that it does.”

    How Airbnb Is Pushing Locals Out Of New Orleans’ Coolest Neighborhoods
    The sharing economy was supposed to benefit residents. Instead, our investigation shows it’s accelerating gentrification, making neighborhoods richer and whiter.

    bit.ly/2iJcEGD (drag & drop)

    • Yeah, let’s make this a race issue. Typical Asheville liberal. But honestly, why is gentrification so bad? Is it because blacks/hispanics are far more likely to be un- or under-educated? I mean, if we’re talking race here, let’s be sure to include the real issue. The fact that both demographics are not willing to work hard to get an education, for blacks its mostly the ‘sellout/Uncle Tom’ mentality that holds them back, and either language or deliberate ignorance with hispanics.

      The bottom line here is blacks/hispanics seem to want to live in slums. They tend to not care about their envinronment, or the state of their living quarters. Want to know WHY the slums are slums? It’s less the monetary investment involved as it’s sheer indifference.

      It’s amazing they complain about the slums they live in AND also complain about ‘gentrification’. To me, this just proves they are nothing but whiny children.

  2. hauntedheadnc says:

    The bottom line when it comes to STR’s is that every apartment or house that is being rented in its entirety to tourists is an apartment or house that is not being rented to residents. Every unit not rented to residents is a unit contributing to the housing shortage and the fact that housing in Asheville is ludicrously overpriced.

    Consider that developers are planning to build an entire condo building downtown that will be nothing but STR’s, and consider that a theater downtown is being thrown out of its home to make way for STR’s. Consider that several housing units downtown are set aside for STR’s, including some on Carolina Lane and Chicken Alley — and setting those spaces aside for STR’s necessitated the sanitizing of what used to be a very unique and artistic urban space.

    I figure, if you want to rent out one bedroom in your home where you live full-time, go for it. If you want to rent out a whole house, go to hell. You’re part of the problem. I have always found second homes and homes set aside for STR’s to be in incredibly wasteful, and that disgusts me.

    • LUV Asheville says:

      I agree. Whole house rentals invite investor speculation and this leads to housing price spikes and hollowing out of neighborhoods. If we only allow STRs for people who live on the property (including ADUs), then we can stop this madness. I am all for rescinding the right for STRs to be allowed in CBD, RAD, Haywood corridor, or any other commercial building in Asheville.

      The city needs to come up with a comprehensive STR program (as almost every city of comparable size has already done). This piecemeal, patchwork approach is just not working!

    • This is the problem with Asheville. So much revenue is from tourism that drives the move to STRs, yet also limits ‘permanent’ housing and driving up costs. Those costs are also driven up by having so many liberal Democrats running the city and taxing the hell outta everyone.

      Not to mention the fact that it’s the same City Council pushing for so many hotels being built on land that could be used for more long term housing.

      Of course, it’s unlikely people in Asheville, especially City Council understand such basic logic.

  3. Susan says it best – Those rules are clean and clear. Lets not pull a curtain over our eyes, its because hotels don’t like it and god forbid home owners have found a way to make money outside the box. Uber did it with taxi’s, it’s a sign of the times evolve city council of Asheville…residents only, same taxes as hotels…..simple. Why can’t a home owner offer their residence for rent, it should be theirs to do as they please…..long term rentals are allowed, but oh no not for 3 nights…..pisses me off!

  4. LUV Asheville says:

    There are solid reasons to ensure compliance to STR rules, but rental housing “affordability” is not one of them. Gordon Smith, Gwen Wisler and Julie Mayfield love to throw this term out as the rallying cry to stop STRs, but the facts do not support this position.

    Let’s be clear, Asheville does have a “government subsidized” rental unit availability problem, but it does not have a “market rate” rental unit availability problem. And Mr. Smith, Ms. Wisler and Ms. Mayfield know this. Many on the council push this “affordability” idea as a foil to shield their main motivation: protection of Asheville hoteliers. (Hint, follow the money).

    In the last few years, the city paid Patrick Bowen, President, Bowen National Research to produce two reports assessing the rental situation in Asheville–draft report issued in 2015 and a follow up report in 2016.

    From the December 20, 2016 report:

    In 2015 & 2016 (through October) Buncombe County added 9 multifamily “market rate” rental projects, totaling 1563 units to get the vacancy rate from 1.2% to 3.6% (Bowen #s)

    In the development pipeline there are 41 “market rate” projects (350% increase over 2015/16) representing 4772 units (200% increase over 2015/16)

    At the end of the report, Mr. Bowen cautioned area stakeholders [including city council] with the following statement:

    “With a confirmed 2,265 rental housing units currently under construction in the county and a potential 2,507 additional units either planned or proposed for development, it will be important for both the public and private sectors to monitor the local rental housing market for signs of it becoming saturated, particularly for market-rate housing. While occupancy rates remain relatively high and rent increases exceed national averages, the market could reach a point of saturation in the near future.”

    Please Mr. Smith, Ms. Wisler and Ms. Mayfield, do not waste anymore of your time wagging your finger at these mostly full-time, Asheville citizen STR operators, as a prime cause of insufficient “government subsidized” housing. Homes, or rooms in homes that are STRs would never be “government subsidized” housing. You need to do your job and look somewhere else. Also, stop protecting the hotel industry and give the people of Asheville an opportunity to share in the tourist economy!

  5. This is so wrong! STR’s do not affect affordable housing in any meaningful way. There is NO proof that it does.

    Points relevant to the lack of affordable housing:
    1. The cause of the lack of affordable housing is directly related to the economic theory of supply and demand. Asheville is a hot real-estate market in terms of commercial and residential real estate. The supply is low and the demand is very high. This equals high prices regardless of what the commodity is. What can you do about it? Nothing.
    2. Most STR home owners are neither buying or selling property and therefore have no impact on the real-estate market.
    3. Most STR owners would not rent their property long term because they either live on or in the property. If they did it would be for nowhere near the affordable housing ceiling.
    4. The lack of affordable housing is a critical problem in every city and town, especially in tourism areas. The fact is that living in any downtown is expensive. It is and has always been much more expensive to live in downtown areas. That is not going to change.
    5. Ask yourself, is it the responsibility of property owners as individuals to solve the lack of affordable housing problem or is it the responsibility of states, cities and counties?
    Possible solutions:
    1. Limit STR permits to permanent residents of the specific counties in the greater Asheville area. This will eliminate developers, second home owners and outside investors from having STR’s while still giving local’s the opportunity to invest in Asheville.
    2. Limit permits to 1 per individual if you don’t want people to make a business out of STR’s but still want to help Asheville area residents secure financial stability.
    3. Charge enough for the permits to pay for building inspections and other costs the city incurs.
    4. Collect the same taxes hotels pay.
    5. Develop standards and regulations.

    • Next door to me are two houses on a single lot that were purchased within the last two or three years. One was turned into a full-time STR immediately, and the other was turned a year later after it was renovated. They are owned by a local couple, who also own at least one other full-time STR in the city, and are part owners of two local restaurants. Before being sold, both houses were being leased to long-term renters. If you don’t think these particular “permanent residents” have had any effect on the rental housing market in town, you’re simply incorrect. Also, homestays where the owner lives in the property are already legal . . . it’s only illegal if it’s a complete separate house on the same property.

    • luther blissett says:

      “is it the responsibility of property owners as individuals to solve the lack of affordable housing problem”

      Washing your hands of the ultimate responsibility to make it better doesn’t absolve you of things that make it worse.

  6. This is so wrong! STR’s do not affect affordable housing in any meaningful way. Read on to find out why.
    Short Term Rentals – Lodging of a Different Color, Unique, Misunderstood and Hated.
    Sound Familiar?
    As a previous SRT owner who is honoring the ban and retired Hospitality Management professor I ask community members, current and aspiring City Council members the following:
    Regarding STR’s. If you are voicing your opinion and attacking Asheville area residents/property owners without having the facts or hearing from the average STR owner you are not doing your job. Can you answer the following questions?
    1. How many STR owners have you spoken to face to face?
    2. STR’s are allowed in Buncombe County, every adjoining county and every community close to Asheville. Several downtown condo developments have recently been given STR permits for the whole condo development or part of the development. Is it fair to Asheville property owners that they have been singled out and banned from participating in the tourism industry?
    3. Exactly how many STR’s are there in the Asheville city limits that are not located in commercial districts?
    4. Of those in #1, how many owners are fulltime Asheville area residents? How many are developers, second home owners or out-of-town investors? (Hint: Most are residents.)
    5. How many fulltime residents are there that occupy their rental property are renting auxiliary dwellings? How many rent their primary dwelling and stay with family or friends while it is rented?
    6. How many permitted homestay owners actually stay in the home while it’s being rented? (Hint: There’s no way to know or not is there?)
    7. What is the average annual net income? (hint: less than $10,000)
    8. How many rely on STR income to pay for rapidly increasing property taxes, mortgages and other critical expenses such as health insurance?
    9. How many of those that do not live in their rental properties or that do have an auxiliary dwelling on property are interested in renting long term? (Hint: None or they’d be doing it.)
    10. Of those how many who would or are forced to rent long term would charge affordable housing rates? (Hint: Very few if any.)
    11. Is there proof that STR’s contribute to the lack of affordable housing?
    12. What % of complaints has the city received in relation to the number of STR’s in the city limits? How many of those were in residential neighborhoods? How many in commercial districts? How many were disturbance related? How many were because they were reported as illegal STR’s only?
    If you aren’t even curious about the answers to these questions and are not willing to find out then you should not be developing opinions about something you know nothing about.
    Points relevant to the lack of affordable housing:
    1. The cause of the lack of affordable housing is directly related to the economic theory of supply and demand. Asheville is a hot real-estate market in terms of commercial and residential real estate. The supply is low and the demand is very high. This equals high prices regardless of what the commodity is. What can you do about it? Nothing.
    2. Most STR home owners are neither buying or selling property and therefore have no impact on the real-estate market.
    3. Most STR owners would not rent their property long term because they either live on or in the property. If they did it would be for nowhere near the affordable housing ceiling.
    4. The lack of affordable housing is a critical problem in every city and town, especially in tourism areas. The fact is that living in any downtown is expensive. It is and has always been much more expensive to live in downtown areas. That is not going to change.
    5. Ask yourself, is it the responsibility of property owners as individuals to solve the lack of affordable housing problem or is it the responsibility of states, cities and counties?
    Possible solutions:
    1. Limit STR permits to permanent residents of the specific counties in the greater Asheville area. This will eliminate developers, second home owners and outside investors from having STR’s while still giving local’s the opportunity to invest in Asheville.
    2. Limit permits to 1 per individual if you don’t want people to make a business out of STR’s but still want to help Asheville area residents secure financial stability.
    3. Charge enough for the permits to pay for building inspections and other costs the city incurs.
    4. Collect the same taxes hotels pay.
    5. Develop standards and regulations.
    Other considerations:
    1. How fair and expedient is it to only hear one side of the STR issue? STR owners can’t speak out and have no voice in this matter without repercussions.
    2. The average STR rental rate is no more than $100 a night (not including taxes and fees). Occupancy is probably no more than 50%. Realistically gross sales would be no more than $26,400 and probably less. Net income after taxes and expenses would be around $10,000 or less maximum. That amount, though small would significantly help existing home owners with ballooning property taxes, mortgages and maintaining their home. Those that are buying specifically with STR’s in mind have a different financial incentive. They are looking for a way to pay for their investment activity. I also think that those that fall into this category don’t realize the cost of owning an STR. The above-mentioned costs items aren’t really taken into consideration and neither is the 25% commission they’ll have to pay someone else to manage it. They look at the sales numbers and think of that as income when they will have much less. There’s no way they will cover their expenses much less come out ahead.
    3. STR owners can remove a disruptive guest immediately. Having long term tenants and owner-occupied residences does not guarantee that there won’t be disruptive behavior or that they won’t be occupied by people that pose a threat to neighbors. Enforcing behavioral clauses in leases or terminating leases on that basis is not only expensive it’s almost impossible. Landlords are very reluctant to go down that path. There’s little you can do to remove paying long-term renters or home owners until a crime is committed. There is also no guarantee that the property owner isn’t an outside investor and absentee landlord.
    4. STR owners must maintain their property in good condition always for guests. Can you say the same of property owners? Just driving around Asheville proves otherwise.
    5. There are many Bed & Breakfasts in Asheville. They are located in residential neighborhoods, mostly in our finest neighborhoods. Their cliental is not different than those that frequent STR’s. They bring more outsiders into neighborhoods than do STR owners because their occupancy potential is much higher.
    6. Staying in a STR is not cheap and therefore does not draw a sketchy crowd. By the time the guest pays taxes, the cleaning fee and the reservation fee the total is in line with B&B’s and hotels. The appeal is staying somewhere unique that reflects the Asheville area, has a kitchen and the private space hotels and B&B’s cannot offer within the 4 walls of a guest room. There is also a relationship developed between the host and the guest that far surpasses that of a hotel’s front desk representatives.
    7. Many STR’s are utilized by locals.
    8. STR’s do pay taxes though not lodging taxes because they are banned. The STR marketing companies such as Airbnb and VRBO require and collect all applicable taxes.
    9. STR’s send money back into the local economy. They often provide flowers, snacks, beverages, extensive personal hygiene items, feature local artists and authors, promote local restaurants and activities.
    10. As far as I know there are no numbers on auxiliary dwellings. As far as how many stay on or in their property, who knows? Most probably do not. There is no way to enforce this either. I just love laws that can’t be enforced – don’t you? I have used STR’s myself many times and in each case so far the owners live in the property but leave when its rented. There is an upside to this for these owners. I stayed at a young man’s loft in downtown LA while attending a convention. I asked him about his situation. He said that as a young chef downtown is the place to be. That there was no way he could have afforded to live downtown without renting his place out. He only needed to rent it 7 nights a month to have his rent covered. He stayed with friends when it was rented. Two others were owned by young women who could buy homes or condo’s that they would not have been able to afford very easily or at all without the STR. The STR option made it possible for them to have much better housing and to own homes, make an investment and not to have to throw away money on rent. Being able to tent a primary dwelling as an STR can actually provide an opportunity for people to own a home or have better housing. The income mine provided paid for helping my daughters with college tuition so loans were less, provide for counseling that I wasn’t able to provide for previously and I paid a single mother, working several jobs to make ends meet $20 an hour to clean my STR. It also helped me supplement my retirement income while having the ability to have a place of my own. I consider myself lucky because my need wasn’t critical to being able to keep my home. I dreaded telling my daughters that I could no longer help them and the single mother I no longer needed her. There are those that literally are hanging on to their homes by their fingernails. These aren’t people that are going to rent their property long term because it is their primary residence.
    11. Owning an STR is not without work unless you’re willing to give up 25% to have someone else manage it. A STR requires cleaning that includes checking every glass, plate and piece of silverware and more. Laundry has to be done and in my case I ironed sheets and pillow cases to make the linens look fresh. Beds have to be made and beverages and staples need to be purchased and stocked. Everything about the property needs to be well maintained. Then there’s the hospitality aspect which is my favorite part. Much time is spent on communicating with the guest. They want tourism, restaurant and activity information. I used to develop itineraries specific to each guest’s preferences, supply cakes, flowers and cards for special occasions at no additional cost. Each host functions as a personal concierge. I’ve had guests join us for Thanksgiving, dressed them in costumes to participate in the downtown LEAF parade, gone on home tours, drum circle, Friday’s After 5, the RAD, had dinner and cocktails and listened to music with them at local venues. They can’t get that kind of special attention from any hotel or bed and breakfast.
    12. Will banning STR’s keep STR’s out of Asheville? Has it so far? No.
    Questions about you:
    1. Conservatives against STR’s – It is broadly wondered if you are in the pocket of hotels and developers. Are you? Aren’t you supposed to be for less government control and interference and more opportunities for the small business owner?
    2. Liberals against STR’s – It is generally assumed that liberals have open minds and most would describe themselves as such. In this case you are polarized by a few unproven and unsubstantiated factors. You’ve jumped on as affordable housing bandwagon with little else than rhetoric that you mimic. That shows both arrogance and ignorance. Aren’t you for the little guy and individual rights of everyone including residents and property owners who are trying to find financial stability? Why are you aggressively attacking and suppressing Asheville area residents? Why aren’t you limiting your attack to big business, developers and out-of-town investors all of which push rent and real-estate prices higher?

    In conclusion, cutting this source of income away from residents, denying them the ability to tap into the tourism industry while everyone around them can including condo developers and investors can is not in the best interest of many Ashevillians. It’s so simple – cut developers, 2nd home owners and investors out of the loop through regulation. STR’s have been banned for quite some time. It hasn’t stopped people from having them and no matter what you do they will continue. What you can’t stop you can control. The city does not have the resources to actively enforce that ban nor should they when there’s so many other critical problems to address such as crime. Charge enough for permits to cover STR enforcement.
    We don’t need more government officials that focus on impossibilities rather than possibilities. All I ask for is that problem solving be the first approach rather than throwing the baby out with the bath water, in all issues the city faces. Controlling who has STR’s and regulating so they meet codes, pay lodging taxes and so on is what should be happening.

  7. Labeling homeowners who rent short-term as “criminal” is offensive, mis-guided and counterproductive. Fo many long-term Asheville residents, myself included, renting our properties short-term is the only way to afford to stay in our homes, with the skyrocketing cost of living and low wages in Asheville. To target individual homeowners distracts from the real problem: out of town speculators and developers who are driving up property costs up, and taking tourism profits away from the local residents who have made this city a destination in the first place.

  8. We operate an AirBnB in our WAVL home and pay for a Homestay Permit to do so. Spend 5 minutes browsing AirBnB listings online and you’ll immediate find a handful of obvious violations; full-size kitchen ranges are one dead giveaway. Why not hire a few interns or UNCA students to ferret out these violators? You won’t catch every last one, but a lot of listings can be verified on the ground by matching views of exterior house colors or unique trees, etc. Or offer a bounty: $100 to anyone who brings a property in violation to the city’s attention. This article suggests that there are approximately 500 AirBnBs without Homestay Permits, so you’re looking at $50,000 to identify them all (considerably less than the $200k/yr that’s current paid to the consultant).

  9. “city staffers don’t have a lot of time to actually hit the streets and eyeball properties to make a match…”

    If these folks are “breaking the law” why isn’t law enforcement involved in finding out who is committing these “crimes?”

    If there were drugs being sold or prostitution happening at homes across the city you can bet the police would be charged with uncovering the activity at the suspected addresses.

    • Seeing through the smoke and mirrors says:

      It isn’t a law, it is a zoning ordinance. The City is notorious for not enforcing zoning, at least they don’t usually enforce it with corporate interest with lots of money. The real question is why are we spending so many tax dollars on this for it to just go to an out of town company to search and why are the people we hired locally not able to do their job, is it because they are really inspecting hotels and sign ordinances? Think of what we could do for our locals with that 200,000!

    • STR operators aren’t breaking a law, they are violating a zoning ordinance. Huge difference.

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