Online services like HomeAway and Airbnb make it easier for visitors to book spare bedrooms and otherwise vacant dwellings as an alternative to traditional hotels, motels and bed-and-breakfasts. But the technology that’s feeding this latest boon for entrepreneurs also falls within a legal gray area that local governments must sensibly address.
The most idyllic short-term rentals are closely tied to property owners — individuals who quickly respond to consumer needs as well as neighborhood concerns. But that isn’t always the norm in college communities where absentee landlords are more common. Such cities have spent years working on neighborhood relations, and existing regulations are ill-equipped to respond to the unique challenges presented by this new market.
While most short-term rental transactions occur without problem, the few bad apples can be exceptionally rancid. Renters in California trashed a property and went on a neighborhood crime spree. A New York Post investigative report found prostitutes save money by utilizing short-term rentals. Some guests squat in the spaces they rent — unlawfully occupying the space after the rental term is up.
More frequent concerns are commercialization of residential areas, including signage, traffic, parking and noise. Many larger cities have already taken steps to rein in the short-term rental market, understanding that unfettered access can squeeze supply of long-term rentals and negatively impact housing affordability.
We generally support Coralville’s move to enact basic regulations for short-term rentals, but believe the requirement for property owners to remain on-site unduly stifles the industry.
Local officials need to tread carefully, respecting the right of property owners to supplement their income or meet mortgage costs by renting rooms or homes.
We believe most problems can be mitigated by requiring short-term rentals to be a primary residence, and developing special permits for absentee owners. Officials should also consider capping the number of days a unit can be used as a rental.
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Finally, these services do not collect taxes in Iowa, although they do in other states. State and local leaders need to level the playing field and ensure all visitors pay a fair share.
More Iowa communities need to begin the discussion of how to protect the integrity of neighborhoods and ensure the safety of renters.
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