Additional Thoughts (Jan 4, 2020) – Short Term Rentals

Jan 4, 2020 | City Council

The following was originally published in my Jan 4, 2020 Newsletter in the “Additional Thoughts” section

Additional thoughts…

I am writing this paragraph from a dining room table at an AirBnB in Olympia, Washington. In addition to a few hotels, our family has stayed at a number of short term rentals this past week (AirBnB and Vrbo): several of them as a “primary residence homestay” and one as a “non-owner occupied” (a home in Northern California which was a vacation home for someone living in Southern California). The night we spent in Newport, Oregon was most relevant to discussions we are now having in Ann Arbor.

On the outside of our AirBnB in Newport, I was surprised to see a highly visible notice which provided a number for “SHORT TERM RENTAL HOTLINE.” Inside, the house binder included an actual license and receipt for that property’s registration with (and fees paid to) the city. The city of Newport’s website includes a complete list of STRs with owner/agent contact information, as well as a complaint form to be used by anyone wanting to report concerns about a short-term rental. There is a wealth of well-organized information on Newport’s website about how they tackled the challenge of regulating STRs in their city (see link below). In addition to registration requirements, Newport employs zoning overlays, density limits, and conditional zoning:

Newport’s regulation of STR’s is not the only example in the state of Oregon. Communities all along the coast are recognizing how the seasonal business of rentals is impacting the availability of housing for anyone who wants to live and work there year round. Several have begun regulating.

This trip, I have encountered a couple of reminders of how politics differ, regionally. E.g. In California (and starting this year, Oregon), stores can not provide “single use” bags, and must charge customers a small fee (at least 5 or 10 cents) for “reusable” bags. On my second day in California, I felt my own resistance to paying that fee — the first time I paid for a bag, I spent the rest of the day making use of it until it was overflowing! At the Oregon state capital, I bumped into a fellow tourist from Missouri, who shared an assessment of how his state was “backwards”: he described the exact scenario that played out in Michigan, when Ann Arbor attempted to ban plastic bags but the state legislature intervened to prevent it. Politically, California/Oregon are clearly very different from Michigan/Missouri.

Ann Arbor is not dominated by tourists in the same way as a beach community in Oregon. Unlike a beach town, the seasonality of our tourism is perhaps measured in days and weekends, rather than full weeks of vacation. Still, the concerns expressed by Oregon residents are similar to those currently expressed by Ann Arbor residents. How do we preserve housing supply for people who want to live in our town year-round? How do we protect the availability of year-round housing, when the economics are so strong/favorable for investment as short term rentals?

I have received a number of emails this week from residents landing on both sides of this issue — either urging us to leave well enough alone, or urging us to consider how to reign in (or restrict growth of) the STR market in Ann Arbor. I have told everyone: I expect our discussion of this issue to be thorough. Everyone on Council is aware that this issue is not simple or straightforward and that whatever we do will have an impact. Some wards include more STRs than others. Some of us are hearing more about this issue from residents who either use their homes as STRs or feel impacted by neighbors who do. I look forward to hearing perspectives from my colleagues.