Enforcement of the city's new short-term rental licensing program has been delayed again because of confusion over the application process and other issues.
Columbus’ short-term rental licensing program needs some more tweaks, so the regulations that were set to take effect first Jan. 1, then March 1, now will not be enforced until May 30, although that date is subject to change.
Officials are working to clarify the application process and rules around primary versus secondary residences, especially duplexes, said Kevin McCain, former legislative aide to Michael Stinziano, who was a Columbus City Council member last year and sponsored legislation creating the regulations. Stinziano now is Franklin County Auditor.
“As with all new regulations, trying to regulate new technology—(it) had a few hiccups,” McCain said. “So we put an extended deadline in place to start enforcing the rules March 1. Since then, though, (it has needed) further amendments, just because once we started the process, new scenarios popped up that we had never thought about. We’re still trying to fine-tune that legislation moving forward.”
The local discussion about short-term rental regulation for hosts of properties rented out through Airbnb, Homeaway, VRBO and similar platforms started in 2016 with conversations at community meetings. People expressed concerns about short-term rentals in their neighborhoods, such as noise, not knowing who was coming into their neighborhoods and not knowing where their neighbors were, McCain said. Some called for an outright ban on Airbnbs and other short-term rentals, he said.
“But then we had the hosts and the Columbus Hosts Alliance who were saying, ‘We’re not doing anything wrong. It’s our property rights, so we don’t think there should be any regulations at all,’ ” McCain said.
City Council passed legislation regulating the rentals in August.
Some cities don’t allow short-term rentals and many regulate them, including New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, London, Amsterdam. In Miami Beach, Florida, where the rentals are outlawed in many districts, the fine for the first illegally listed rental is $20,000. By contrast, the regulations imposed on Columbus are pretty lenient, said Adam Friedman, senior policy adviser with the city.
“We really haven’t heard any complaints or compliments (from hosts). It’s been more like, ‘Can we tweak this process here and there?’ ” he said.
The regulation requires hosts to register with the city and maintain insurance on their homes. The properties can be inspected at any time. There is a $75-per-year fee for an owner-occupied rental residence and a $150 fee for an unoccupied rental residence. The fine for noncompliance is $250.
Where will the funds go? Although it hasn’t yet been set in stone, Friedman said about half the $150 fee will go toward affordable housing. The rest of the capital generated by the program, which charges a $20 application fee, likely will go toward administration of the program. The regulation also charges bed tax on short-term rentals, treating them like hotels, which is something the Ohio Hotel and Lodging Association has advocated for.
Marc Rice, a 21-year-old senior at Ohio State University and Airbnb host, said it was only a matter of time before regulation came. He has owned his Short North Airbnb property since September 2018 and works for REAF Co., a Columbus real estate firm handling acquisitions and property management. REAF manages 75 units, three of which are Airbnbs that Rice oversees. He said the new rules aren’t a make-or-break for him—in fact he feels the new licensing requirements add some legitimacy to hosts. He said he’s glad a portion of the fees will go toward affordable housing (short-term rentals have been blamed for driving up housing costs in some cities). One thing that worries him, however, is the potential for higher Airbnb prices as the requirements weed out some hosts.
According to Airbnb’s website, there are more than 1,000 listings in Columbus. The city has been named by the company as Ohio’s hottest market.
Chloe Teasley is staff writer.