Short-term rentals, after years of heated debate, are now a part of the City of Auburn’s laws.
In a 5-to-3 vote late Tuesday night, the Auburn City Council first approved amendments to the proposed regulations for short-term rentals proposed by Mayor Ron Anders to exclude short-term rentals from single-family neighborhoods, and then voted 5 to 3 to adopt the ordinance as amended.
Anders' amendment aligned with the draft ordinance recommended for approval by the Auburn Planning Commission at its Jan. 25 special-called meeting, which prohibited short-term rentals from single-family neighborhoods including Neighborhood Conservation, Development District Housing, Limited Development and Large Lot Residential districts.
Mayor Pro Tem Beth Witten’s amended ordinance at the Feb. 16 council meeting, which proposed inclusion of homestays in single-family home neighborhoods and added Neighborhood Conservation neighborhoods, failed to gain traction one month later.
Short-term rentals will also be prohibited in two other zones: Corridor Redevelopment (west of North Donahue Drive) and Neighborhood Redevelopment (west of North Donahue Drive).
Anders, reading from a prepared statement during the meeting, said he had "listened to all sides of the issue" and felt "that citizens' confidence in the stability and integrity of the NC and other neighborhoods is of paramount importance and must be recognized."
Anders said the citizen feedback on short-term rentals reminds him of discussions in 1984, when NC districts were created. Since then, past elected officials have pledged to protect single-family neighborhoods zoned NC, he said.
“I appreciate that commitment," he said, "and I pledge to do my best to adhere to it as well.”
The move to approve the amendment came after listening to more than 20 residents who either lobbied for or against the two types of short-term rentals now on the books: homestays (in a person’s permanent residence) and short-term non-primary rentals (in an investment property that is not a person’s permanent residence).
City attorney Rick Davidson shared light on the legality of the more than 300 current short-term rentals operating in town prior to the passed ordinance, a main argument for or against the Airbnb and VRBO rental industry in town.
“The current zoning ordinance does not permit or prohibit the short-term rentals as we have now come to understand it,” Davidson said ahead of the council’s vote, which updated the zoning ordinance to explicitly state where short-term rentals are permitted and prohibited.
Davidson added that the council’s legislation and definitions allows the city to collect taxes and then regulate short-term rental activity, "and [the City] then has the ability to enforce an ordinance that addresses all these concerns.”
Implementing a two-strike policy, the ordinance states that home occupation licenses and business licenses intended for short-term rentals that have been issued by the Planning Department and later were revoked will remain revoked for the remainder of the current year plus one additional calendar year.
Home occupation licenses are required for homestays, while business licenses are required for short-term nonprimary rentals.
Enforcement moving forward
Implementation, Crouch clarified Tuesday night, will not be immediate.
“As we’re ramping up this ordinance, it’s going to take 90 or so days before we can take a full implementation look at this,” Crouch said. “We’re going to start sending letters telling people an ordinance has been adopted and, if they are in the business of short-term rentals, whether they can move forward in a process to gain a license or if they need to stop doing what they’re doing.”
To address the lack of business license categories for short-term rentals currently, The Auburn City Council will have to amend the current business license ordinance. That is expected at an April council meeting.
Crouch also said she will be meeting internally with city staff, Davidson, the city prosecutor and city municipal judge to “determine exactly how we will cite people and how we will prosecute them should they violate the ordinance.”
“That’s why I’m anticipating about a 90-day ramp-up before we really start pushing people to follow this law in a little more firm fashion,” Crouch said. “We’re going to have some friendly reminders first and then we’ll push harder and put a lot of PR out about it.”
The three Councilpersons in opposition to the passed ordinance – Ward 7 Councilperson Jay Hovey, Mayor Pro Tem Beth Witten and Ward 4 Councilperson Brett Smith – argued against the passed ordinance, citing inequality and the difference between long-term and short-term rentals.
“I contend that a short-term rental isn’t necessarily the evil neighbor that some have portrayed, especially homestays,” Hovey said at Tuesday's meeting. “Your problem isn’t with short-term rentals; it’s bad neighbors. … I do want to see homestays throughout the city. I can’t differentiate in my heart a long-term, six-month rental and a homestay in particular as far as a good and decent neighbor,” Hovey said.
Smith and Witten both argued that exclusion of homestays from single-family home neighborhoods spurs inequality in town.
“If you accept the position that this is a problem for some neighborhoods, but you’re going to vote for it in other neighborhoods, you’re treating these like-neighborhoods unequal,” Smith said, calling the amended ordinance “bad public policy.”
Saying short-term rentals will be “almost impossible to regulate,” Witten said she is “all for solving this and moving forward, but I still believe [short-term rentals] speaks to equality and equity.”
At the Feb. 16 council meeting, Ward 6 Councilperson Bob Parsons and Ward 2 Councilperson Kelley Griswold argued for exclusion of short-term rentals in single-family residential neighborhoods.
Absent from council discussion was Ward 5 Councilperson Steven Dixon, who recused himself after disclosing he owns a short-term rental.
“I also want to be very clear about what I will do when an ordinance passes: I will follow the law – that is plain and simple,” Dixon said at the Feb. 16 council meeting.
To view the full meeting, visit the City of Auburn’s website at auburnalabama.org, or via the city's Facebook page and YouTube channel at CityofAuburnAL.