Athens City Council takes up proposal to regulate short-term home rentals

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — The Athens City Council is considering a proposal which would require homeowners to get a permit to do short-term rentals.

Athens City Hall is seen in Athens, Ohio, on Tuesday, June 22, 2021. [Joseph Scheller | WOUB]
[Joseph Scheller | WOUB]
Homeowners in Athens can already rent out their homes or rooms in their homes using services like Airbnb and Vrbo. There’s no law against that.

What the proposed new system would do is try to regulate this. Inspections could be done similar to long-term rentals and the transient guest tax, which is paid by hotels and motels, could be collected.

Under the proposal, owners of homes in areas zoned for single-family residences who live in the home and want to do short-term rentals would be required to get a permit. The permit would allow for no more than two renters at a time for less than 30 days.

Homes that are not owner occupied could not get short-term rental permits under the proposal, unless located on East State Street, Lancaster Street, Carpenter Street or Columbus Road.

Supporters of the proposal say one additional benefit of this system is that it might help people struggling to afford a home in Athens make some extra money on the side to help pay the mortgage.

“I think this offers some opportunities for folks on limited incomes to make buying and owning a home in the city an option if they’re able to bring in some additional revenue in other ways,” Council Member Arian Smedley said.

Council Member Sarah Grace agreed. “There are people who would be more able to afford living in a house if they could rent out a bedroom or two on busy weekends,” she said.

Others raised concerns that the system being proposed might encourage more rentals in a city already overrun with rental properties and that short-term renters might disrupt neighborhoods if they’re just coming to town to party.

“When someone comes into your neighborhood for a night or two, there will be a certain percentage of them that don’t give a damn about the neighborhood,” said Jack Stauffer, who lives in the Near East neighborhood.

“You need to expect the worst-case scenario because you’re going to get it,” he said. “It’s just a matter of how often you’re going to get it.”

Stauffer pleaded with council members not to allow short-term rentals in neighborhoods zoned for single-family residential use.

Andy Stone, the city’s service safety director, noted that people in these neighborhoods are already doing short-term rentals in their homes. The purpose of the proposed permitting system is to give the city more regulatory oversight.

“It’s happening now,” he said. “You can rent out your basement for a night and you can open your oven to heat it, to keep your renter warm for that night, and there’s not a mechanism to say that’s not OK.”

Athens resident Diane McVey told the council she has been doing short-term rentals out of her home for the past four years.

“I think that the whole point for the people opposed to this is to realize that there are no current regulations,” she said. “This will give the city the ability to regulate what’s going on.”

Alan Swank, who will join the council in January after winning a seat in last week’s election, said he was concerned that the city’s already understaffed code enforcement office would not have the resources to enforce the proposed rules, such as whether the owner is in fact living in a house being rented.

“How is the code office that’s currently understaffed going to find out if the person is present or just the owner of the dwelling?” he asked.

A public forum on the proposal is scheduled for Nov. 22 in the council chambers.