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Addressing short-term rental issues

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The issue of short term rentals took center stage at the Town of Woodfin’s monthly meeting of the Board of Aldermen Tuesday evening (May 19), as 15-20 residents attended the meeting to voice their concerns. On the board’s agenda, under new business, an ordinance proposed to classify short term rentals (a period of less than 30 days) as a hotel or motel and would fall under a commercial venture that would not be allowed in residential areas.

At stake is a growing internet industry to rent homes in residential sections as short-term vacation rentals for the public at large. The trend is growing and is now causing neighbors, who live next to such homes, problems with the short-term renters who care little about their behavior in the neighborhood while they’re there.

Woodfin Town Administrator Jason Young said the new ordinance had been created to address problems with short-term rentals which the town had been receiving complaints about, specifically a home on Audubon Drive, but would cover all residential areas in Woodfin.

Woodfin resident Eleanor Floyd of Audubon Drive, who pointed out the neighbors she had in attendance to the meeting and told the board, “We are asking if you would look at the Woodfin regulations and restrictions that I have given you and see if you can help us out with this issue and end the short-term rental in R-21 not only for our street, but for other areas in the Woodfin district.”

Mayor Jerry VeHaun asked Young to comment and then Young proceeded to tell the board, and those attending, the details of the ordinance and said they would have to send it to the planning and zoning board to get their approval. VeHaun then said that the town’s attorney, Joe Ferikes, had a concern about the new law.

Ferikes said that he saw a possible conflict with state law which specifically authorizes vacation rentals saying, “Typically, when you have a state law authorizing something, it could be illegal for a municipality to state that it is illegal to do that.” Long story short, the new ordinance could get the town sued. Ferikes said that Asheville is considering the same issues regarding short-term leasing.

Young said that he believes the new Woodfin ordinance addresses the problem in a unique way. “I believe it is worth the attempt and it is staff’s recommendation to send it to the p and z as a proposal…this [short-term renting] is a new trend…and it is just going to get more common with the internet.” He went on to say, “I know the law may not be on our side but I think it is a novel approach to just clarify the law and say here’s what it is.”

Alderman Don Hensley asked if the sub development did not have any restrictions in the homeowner’s agreement. Young said no.

Several more spoke in favor of the ordinance, and two others spoke in favor of alternatives to the ordinance, such as a property management company and noise enforcement. One of the commentors was Woodfin resident Gus Mujica who also works for a vacation rental company who said, “A lot of problems that come are from mismanagement; they’re managed by their owner.”

Resident Michael Matthews of Mills Place also spoke in favor of short-term rentals saying he had used the internet services for short-term rentals several times. “It is a new frontier and a new reality, especially for my generation…rather than outright banning it, perhaps there are some other ways that you can make sure folks behave themselves because the practice of short-term rental, I’m not sure that is necessarily the problem. It’s the misbehavior of the folks that are actually doing the renting.”

Young stated after more comments, “This may be one of those things we want to get in front of. Even if it means being pioneers and I know that sometimes pioneers end up with arrows in their backs.”

The board ultimately voted in favor of sending the ordinance to the planning and zoning board for their recommendation. The planning and zoning board met June 1 at 6:30 pm at the town hall.

In other business, the board repealed an entire chapter (31) of the town ordinance that had not been used since the 1980s. The board also set the date, June 30th, for a public hearing on the 2015-16 town fiscal budget and heard reports.

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