Athens City Hall is seen in Athens, Ohio, on Tuesday, June 22, 2021. [Joseph Scheller | WOUB]
Athens City Hall is seen in Athens, Ohio, on Tuesday, June 22, 2021. [Joseph Scheller | WOUB]

Concerns about proposed short-term rental ordinance in Athens turn on definition of ‘owner occupied’

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — A handful of residents once again raised concerns over a proposed ordinance that would regulate short-term rentals in Athens during Monday night’s City Council meeting.

The issue is whether the owner of a short-term rental must be living in the home during the rental period. Those with concerns about how the ordinance is written argue the language isn’t clear enough and would allow a homeowner who otherwise lives in a home to be gone during a short-term rental.

Under the ordinance, 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.

Some residents are concerned that owner occupied is not the same thing as being present in the home while it is being rented, at least not under the language of the ordinance.

One of them is Jack Stauffer, who lives in the Near East neighborhood. He told the council the question of whether the owner must be present seems to be a gray area.

“This may be politics to you folks but it is clearly a quality of life issue to us regular folks who only request that you not diminish our peace and enjoyment of our homes,” he said. Stauffer said that with long-term renters, there is a sense of community and understanding among neighbors, but “with transient or short-term rentals you lose that sense of community.”

Some clarification of what is meant by owner occupied was provided at the meeting. It was from a question-and-answer document Council Member Chris Fahl sent to other council members.

Alan Swank, who will join the council next month replacing Fahl as the fourth ward representative, read from the document: “The idea of occupancy is that the person who owns the house lives in the house. Thus, the house is occupied even if the owner goes out for dinner and is not at home. Home being the operative word.”

According to David Riggs, the city’s director of code enforcement, the proposed language addresses only if a property is owner occupied, not whether the owner must be physically present while renting.

Swank mentioned examples of current short-term rental listings in Athens that he said should not be considered owner occupied under the ordinance. This included someone who lives mostly in other cities but occasionally at the Athens home and someone who rents out their home while traveling.

“These are not examples of owner occupied, a term that needs to be further clarified and addressed before consideration of this ordinance,” Swank said.

The ordinance will be read for a third time at the next council meeting and will be voted on.