Auburn’s Short-Term Rental Task Force met this week in a work session to review a revised draft of an ordinance that would regulate short-term rentals, such as those managed through companies like Airbnb and VRBO, in the city.
The work session was an opportunity for task force members to ask questions about the current draft prior to a public meeting that will be held on Wednesday, where residents will have another chance to voice concerns, questions or support for the new draft.
Planning staff drafted an ordinance in early 2018 that was fairly restrictive, mapping out regulations that would limit short-term rentals to being permanent residences of their owners and only being allowed in zones that permit up to five unrelated occupants per household.
After hosting public forums and an online survey in an effort to hear from residents about the proposed ordinance, planning staff went back to the drawing board and drafted an ordinance that is more permissive.
“We started out with something that was quite conservative and fairly restrictive and got some fairly strong response that it was much too conservative, too restrictive,” said Planning Director Forrest Cotten. “So, we opened it up, and we added some additional opportunities for rentals.”
The new draft creates what Cotten called “tiers” of short-term rentals, with zoning influencing the number of days a rental can be operated per calendar year.
Homestays, a home occupation in which a homeowner hires out as lodging his or her permanent residence, or a portion of it, would be allowed anywhere in the city, though in certain areas the homestay could only operate for so many days each calendar year. In zones that have a more restrictive family definition — Neighborhood Conservation, Development District Housing, Neighborhood Redevelopment District and Limited Development District — the homestay would only be allowed to operate for 60 days per calendar year.
In other zones — Urban Core, Urban Neighborhoods-West, -East and -South, Redevelopment District, Rural, Comprehensive Development District and Corridor Redevelopment Districts-Urban, -Suburban, -East and -West — homestays can operate more frequently, but cannot operate more than 120 days per calendar year without being owner-occupied.
The revised draft ordinance also creates a short-term rental use, called Short Term Non-Primary Rental, which will only be allowed in certain parts of the city and will be conditional in others.
Short Term Non-Primary Rentals are different from homestays in that they are not defined as home occupations and are not permanent residences of their owners. Short Term Non-Primary Rentals would be leased in their entirety to one party for periods of less than 30 consecutive days. A “party” refers to one or more persons who, as a single group, rent the dwelling through a single reservation and payment.
Short Term Non-Primary Rentals cannot be rented out for more than 240 days per calendar year.
The draft recommends permitting this new residential use in the following zones: Urban Core and College Edge Overlay District, Urban Neighborhoods-East, -West and –South, and Corridor Redevelopment Districts-Urban, -Suburban and –West. The use would be conditional in Neighborhood Conservation, Development District Housing, Neighborhood Redevelopment District and Redevelopment District.
Zoning certificates are required to operate a short-term rental, and a certificate may be revoked if three or more substantiated complaints regarding the rental are received by the city in a calendar year. Other criteria for short-term rentals are detailed in the ordinance, which can be found online at auburnalabama.org/short-term-rentals.
Regulated short-term rentals will bring in revenue for the city, mostly through lodging taxes. The city will receive 7 percent of the 13 percent lodging tax, said Finance Director Penny Smith. One percent of the tax will go to the Auburn-Opelika Tourism Bureau.
During Auburn University’s recent graduation weekend alone, Airbnb hosts in Auburn earned a combined $103,000 in supplemental income, according to an economic impact report from Airbnb. The city will remit lodging tax on those rentals thanks to an agreement it has with Airbnb, which collects the taxes on the city’s behalf.
The city has hired consulting company Host Compliance to help monitor where short-term rentals are operating within the city. The company is gathering data from local listings on short-term rental company websites and will provide a map and other information to the city "any day now," said Smith.
To review the current draft ordinance, visit auburnalabama.org/short-term-rentals. Also on the site is a map outlining recommended areas where Short Term Non-Primary Rentals could be permitted by right or conditional. Cotten said there is “no real magic to where those lines are drawn other than staff’s familiarity with the neighborhoods.”
The task force also moved to post online commentary from community members on the website. That information should be available this week.
Task force members plan to continue combing over all public input, including that which the body receives at the upcoming public forum on Wednesday, before writing a report to the Planning Commission detailing its recommendations for a final ordinance. Once the ball is in its court, the Planning Commission will have multiple work sessions to hash out a proposed ordinance, Cotten said.
Then, the ordinance will be put on a commission agenda, with a public hearing, before moving on to the City Council for a final vote.
The public forum on Wednesday will begin at 5:30 p.m. at the Harris Center.
After the forum, the task force will meet once more to begin crafting its report and recommendations for the Planning Commission.
“The meeting on (Wednesday) is important,” Anders said to the task force during this week’s work session. “After (Wednesday), we’ll set a date and come back together and have another work session. We’ll begin to deliberate amongst ourselves what are the things that we feel like this ordinance should have in it.
“None of this happens fast. There are advertising requirements on all these kinds of things, so it’s not something we’re going to fast-track. We’ll be as efficient as possible because I feel like it’s important to our community for us not to belabor the point. This is a difficult decision. There’s a passionate interest in this, and so we have a lot of eyes on each of you, and I hope you understand that.”
Members of the task force include Anders, Councilmen Brett Smith and Bob Parsons, Marcus Marshall, Bob Ritenbaugh, Anna Solomon, Evan Crawford and Bruno Ulrich.