Council members heard from an AirBnB representative Tuesday afternoon, as well as from residents who host guests on the short term online rental service and from the owner of the Oakwood Inn who says her business is being threatened.
City planning and zoning administrator Travis Crane first gave the committee an update on the status quo of AirBnB and companies like it in Raleigh, before presenting some options that other cities have used to regulate short term online rental services. Currently AirBnB hosts are allowed to host guests through the service while Raleigh leaders figure out how to deal with it.
Opportunities for the city associated with AirBnB include increasing available lodging, generating income for hosts and the possibility of generating revenue for local government by imposing sales and occupancy tax as well licensing and other fees. Problems currently associated with the service include safety and insurance issues, lack of parking and unfair competition with traditional lodging services.
Cities all over the country, including Austin, Miami, Charleston and Washington D.C. in the southeast, have introduced ordinances to regulate AirBnB. Some of these regulations address whether the owner is present, the size of the space being rented, number of renters, inspections and permitting. Planning staff recommended modifying Raleigh’s UDO to identify standards for the service and creating practices to level the playing field for other lodging businesses (i.e. requiring collection and remittal of taxes, obtaining permits).
Steve Mange, the director of government affairs for the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association, said work is being done at the state level to regulate AirBnB etc., and that the group anticipates legislation will be introduced this legislative session. He suggested implementing a statewide registry of people engaged in short term online rental services.
Max Pomeranc, AirBnB’s public policy manager, said implementing such a registry would discourage the majority of AirBnB hosts—who rent rooms in their primary residences for short periods— from signing on to the service.
Council member John Odom said he would like to keep city and state regulations separate if possible. “I’d be nervous about turning this over to the state and them controlling it,” Odom said. “I would hate to have to go back to the state and ask if we could do something. I would not be thrilled about that.”
Chair Mary Ann Baldwin agreed that would not be ideal but said Raleigh was trying to avoid situations where people rented multiple rooms in their homes, or in different homes they owned, to different groups of people at one time. She requested statistics for the numbers of people hosting on AirBnB out of their primary residences versus professionals using the service to rent out multiple structures they own.
“That’s a concern in cities everywhere,” Pomeranc said. “It’s a challenge. That’s a reason for (as in San Jose, Calif.) making your primary residence only eligible for AirBnB. If you’re operating rentals in more than your primary and secondary homes, you’re running something closer to a professional bed and breakfast.”
He added that asking AirBnB to police any city or state regulations, however, would go against the company’s terms of service. “We have to protect users all the time, you would want a normal due process,” he said.
Pomeranc said regulations have only been introduced in other cities within the last year. He said that Portland, San Francisco, Chicago and Washington D.C. have introduced a pilot program to collect and remit sales and occupancy taxes and that AirBnB’s platform is that homeowners have safety precautions— smoke alarms, carbon dioxide monitors, fire escape maps—in place for guests.
AirBnB has also introduced a $1 million insurance guarantee for hosts and an internal regulatory system where hosts rank guests and vice versa, which minimizes problems for both parties.
“’Superhosts’ are very responsive to guests,” Pomeranc said. “They’re highly rated for cleanliness and responsibility. When guests search hosts and see they are in the superhost category, they have buyer confidence. Bad hosts don’t last long.”
The Oakwood Inn’s Doris Jurkiewicz and Raleigh AirBnB host Gregg Stebben reiterated their positions on AirBnB. Brad Thompson, a host who lives on Hillsborough Street, said he has had “a great experience” with the service and urged the committee not to rush into making a decision on AirBnB.
“It is new and dynamic,” Thompson said. “Don’t rush into putting something into place too quickly because it will keep evolving and we need to be flexible.”
“I appreciate that only with time we get better practices but we’re dealing with boarding houses embedded in neighborhoods,” said Council member Wayne Maiorano. “We need to figure out how to avoid disruption to neighbors.”
Denny Edwards, President of the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors’ Bureau, said “it kills (him)” to hear that Convention Center visitors stay in AirBnB’s “when we’re using our marketing dollars that are paid for by the hotel tax to bring visitors and conventioneers here and they’re not staying in our hotels.”
The committee will discuss the issue again in March; the public is invited to comment.