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Raleigh delays vote – again – on Airbnb rules

Allyn Meredith stands in the room she rents out in Durham on the Airbnb online platform. Raleigh has been trying to enact rules for short-term rentals since 2015.
Allyn Meredith stands in the room she rents out in Durham on the Airbnb online platform. Raleigh has been trying to enact rules for short-term rentals since 2015. vbridges@newsobserver.com

The city still has no regulations for residents who rent out their homes through websites like Airbnb and VRBO.

The Raleigh City Council on Tuesday delayed a vote on proposed rules that would allow most residents to rent out their homes for up to 30 days at a time. The practice is currently banned in Raleigh, but city officials are allowing hosts to operate while they hammer out regulations.

Tuesday’s move came eight months after the council created a task force to research short-term residential rentals. The group drafted a set of rules that aim to help protect neighborhoods from excess noise and traffic while also helping the tourism industry and residents who rely on rental revenues.

Task force leaders presented their recommendation to the council on Tuesday, saying it strikes a good balance.

“It represents a compromise that reflects months of discussion and deliberation on the issues surrounding short-term rentals in the city,” said Brent Woodcox, a Raleigh resident and co-leader of the task force. “It is supported by a petition that has been circulated on social media and garnered more than 300 signatures in support, including that of former mayor Charles Meeker.”

The group suggested categorizing short-term rentals into three types: Type 1 would have a property manager on-site throughout the rental period. Type 2 would require a manager to be on-site 181 days of the year, but not during the rental period. Type 3 wouldn’t require a manager at all, but would only be allowed in mixed-use districts.

Each host would apply for a permit and pay a $150 fee, and then pay an $82 renewal fee each year.

Rather than vote on the proposal, the City Council voted to send it to the Economic Development and Innovation Committee, led by Mayor Nancy McFarlane.

The vote comes almost exactly a year after the council sent a different set of short-term rental regulations to the same committee. That was on June 7, 2016, after the council failed to adopt rules in a 4-4 vote.

This time, McFarlane said the city needs to work out legal issues with the task force’s proposal before moving forward.

Councilman Dickie Thompson, a skeptic of short-term rentals, said the task force’s proposal still doesn’t go far enough to protect neighborhoods.

“There’s a lot of little concerns, but the biggest is still the whole-house rentals in residential areas with no owner or manager,” Thompson said.

He said he thinks the proposal allows for too many rooms to be rented out – five – and that rentals should have a minimum number of bathrooms.

Gregg Stebben, a short term rental host, said he’s disappointed by another delay. Stebben served on the task force and thought city attorneys were reviewing their work.

“We were told many times during the process that X or Y could not be done because X or Y was not legal. Clearly our work was being reviewed by legal staff during the process,” Stebben said. “So how could the entire ordinance go without legal review before the Task Force voted on it, and again without legal review before it came before the City Council for a vote?”

It’s unclear when McFarlane’s committee will discuss the issue. City Attorney Tom McCormick suggested it should be soon.

City leaders have been debating the issue since January 2015, when it stopped enforcing its ban on short-term rentals. The longer the city goes without rules, the less likely hosts are to follow them once they’re adopted, McCormick said.

“We have a lot of businesses that right now are illegal,” he said. “I’m very concerned that we need to do something fairly shortly.”

Paul A. Specht: 919-829-4870, @AndySpecht

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