Last night, after hours of deliberation, a battle-weary city council voted unanimously to support the first reading of ordinances including a new short-term rental licensing program and changes to land use code that limit the concentration of what are frequently referred to as vacation rentals.
Under the first ordinance, which passed with relative ease, new and existing short-term rentals will be required to obtain an annual license with the City. However, new licenses will not be transferrable with sale of the property (rather, following the owner) except under limited circumstances—transfers to family members following death or divorce, or continued ownership by an LLC so long as its membership remains at least 25 percent the same.
The original ordinance language would have applied these transfer limitations on existing short-term rentals, but councilors opted to removed that regulation, largely in the interest of achieving a unanimous vote. By doing so, they were able to enact an emergency clause, allowing the ordinance to go into effect after the second reading (scheduled for April 15), rather than 30 days later.
A number of councilors who might otherwise been in favor of greater restrictions on existing uses, explained that they were willing to wait and see if the number of licensed short-term rentals in heavily affected neighborhoods experiences a natural attrition from the programmatic changes and re-evaluate at a later date.
"The intention is that over time we decrease that density," Councilor Nathan Boddie said, proposing a check-in after 18 months or so to see if the licensing program has had a sufficient impact.
Councilor Casey Roats also favored fewer restrictions, and said that he hoped to avoid adding to them in the future.
"If this programmatic side of things makes these homes be decent neughbors, I’m really reluctant to go in with a sledgehammer for the sake of reaching an arbitrary number," Roats said. "if I owned one of these, I would sue the City."
Though some short-term rentals owners have threatened legal action, City Attorney Mary Winters said such threats are to be expected, and that she believes the ordinances are legally defensible.
Part of the reason councilors were so eager to move forward on the changes is that fears about the outcome of this process have prompted a gold rush of sorts, with the number of approved vacation home rental permits spiking in recent months. In 2014, the City approved 262 vacation home rental permits—more than the number approved from 2007 to 2013 combined. As of March 31, the City has approved another 89.
"As much as I want to protect those neighborhoods now," explained Councilor Doug Knight, "I recognize we need to get something on the books and adopt this resolution in emergency fashion."