News: Quick Takes

As Asheville sues to collect Airbnb fines, Raleigh considers following suit

CJ file photo
CJ file photo

An Asheville man has incurred $850,000 in fines because of rentals he operates in the city. Raleigh may be thinking about imposing the same types of fines against its residents who offer short-term property rentals under Airbnb or other outlets.

The Citizen-Times reports Reid Thompson has flouted Asheville’s short-term rental ban. Despite the growing fines, Thompson doesn’t plan to close his doors.

“I guess my thinking is, ‘Yeah, that’s a huge risk. But I don’t think their fines are collectible because I think they are outrageous and capricious,’” Thompson told Citizen-Times.

The city is suing Thompson to make him pay.

Since 2015, Asheville has enforced a strict ban against short-term rentals like Airbnb. The city fines offenders $500 each day they rent each property.

Raleigh soon could see similar enforcement policies. For the past few years, the Raleigh City Council has struggled with a growing demand for short-term rentals near downtown, where affordable hotel space is scarce. Technically, short-term residential rentals are banned in Raleigh, but enforcement has been lax while the city figures out how to regulate the practice.

In June 2017, a short-term residential rental task force — formed by the Raleigh City Council — came up with a series of ordinances to regulate the industry. But in November that plan fell apart when the council failed to approve the recommendations.

Now the city may adopt the Asheville model, which prohibits short-term rentals in most areas of the city unless property owners obtain a special permit. Homestays, where property owners rent one or two guest rooms, are still allowed.

Brent Woodcox, special counsel to Republicans at the General Assembly, points to public statements and social media activity of City Council members such as Stef Mendell and David Cox as evidence of what to expect next in the short-term rental debate.

“It appears they are considering an Asheville like ordinance for Raleigh,” Woodcox, who is the founder of Share Raleigh, a short term rental advocacy group, said. “So to the extent that Asheville is suing its own citizens in order to collect fines that are associated with short-term rentals that are operating illegally, Raleigh seems to think that’s a good idea to emulate.”

Mendell and Cox didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Woodcox said this would create a huge burden on homeowners who are trying to exercise their property rights.

“Our existing ordinance has obviously proved difficult if not impossible to enforce, and Asheville’s ordinance is proving very difficult if not impossible to enforce,” Woodcox said. “At a certain point I think you have to ask, ‘Is this heavy regulatory burden really a sustainable approach to short term rentals?’”

Ideally, Woodcox wants the city to adopt the recommendations put forth last year by the short-term rental task force. Only three members voted to approve the recommendations: Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane, and former council members Mary-Ann Baldwin and Bonner Gaylord.

“Making it illegal and not regulating it at all and not enforcing the existing regulations can’t possibly be the outcome that anybody on any side of the issue thinks is a good one,” Woodcox said.