Short-term rentals

The Auburn Planning Commission took up the issue of short-term rental regulations in the city at a work session on Tuesday, reviewing and discussing a draft ordinance for short-term rentals that arose out of work done by the Short-term Rental Task Force, which met multiple times for the better part of a year.

The prospect of whether, or how, to regulate short-term rentals, like those booked through Airbnb and VRBO, has been a heated topic in the Auburn community over the last year, and the task force considered input gleaned from multiple public meetings and online feedback. 

Under the proposed regulations arising from the task force, short-term rentals would be defined in two ways — as homestays or as short-term non-primary rentals.

The latter, STNPR, is defined as a unit that is not a permanent residence and is leased in its entirety to one party for periods of less than 30 consecutive days. STNRPs would be limited in operation to 240 days each calendar year and would require the issuance of a zoning certificate. Under the most recent draft ordinance, STNRPs would be permitted by right in the Urban Core/College Edge Overlay District, Urban Neighborhoods East, West and South, and in Corridor Redevelopment Districts Urban, Suburban, West and East. STNRPs would not be permitted in any other district, including Neighborhood Conservation, Development District Housing, Neighborhood Redevelopment District, Redevelopment District and Comprehensive Development District.

An earlier draft proposed making STNRPs a conditional use in the latter districts.

In general, the Planning Commission did not take issue with the latest proposed regulations.

Most of the discussion by commission members centered around homestays, which would be permitted in some form citywide as a home occupation business in the latest proposed regulations. Homestays are defined as a "home occupation in which an individual who owns a dwelling and uses it as his or her permanent residence hires out, as lodging, such dwelling, or any portion thereof," with a permanent residence being occupied by the same individuals for a period of more than 180 days and being documented by motor vehicle registration, driver's license, voter registration, etc. 

Homestays would be limited to six overnight guests per day. In the city's traditional family zoning districts — NC, DDH, NRD and LDD —, homestays could operate no more than 60 days a year when the residence is not owner-occupied. In all other districts, including Rural, homestays could operate no more than 120 days a year when not owner-occupied. If the residence was owner-occupied, it could be rented out as often as the owner wanted.

Homestays would fall under the city's regular use regulations for home occupations, but also include additional homestay-specific provisions, including those outlined above, as well as the requirement of a zoning certificate and its potential revocation by the planning director for three or more substantiated complaints within a calendar year.

Planning Commissioner Warren McCord took issue with what he saw as inconsistent treatment in the proposed homestay regulations — essentially the variance to home occupations that would allow six overnight guests in traditional family districts (NC, DDH, etc.) that fall under regulations that only allow two unrelated individuals to occupy a dwelling.

"I just don't see it as compatible," said McCord, who also said that he is in favor of not allowing any short-term rentals in single-family neighborhoods, noting that the commission often hears residents asking for the protection of the character of their single-family neighborhoods.

"We hear it all the time, and that's one thing I feel firm on," he said. "This is one we need to think very carefully about. If you want to use your home for an occupation that's not allowed there, then you have to move.

"The fact that some people do it anyway, to me that is a very weak reason for legalizing something," McCord added in response to commissioner Nonet Reese's observation that people in single-family neighborhoods are already renting their homes through Airbnb and similar services and that the city needs to regulate it, which would also allow for greater revenue collection through lodging taxes.

Commissioners also discussed the possibility of removing a proposed exception for on-street parking for homestays to bring it in line with typical regulations for home occupations, which requires off-street parking. 

The commission will continue discussing the proposed ordinance at a planned work session on Jan. 14.

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