NEW IN TOWN: City officials determining how to handle rental homes

Published 3:00 am Saturday, July 7, 2018

Troy city officials are reviewing procedures for handling the growth of short-term residential rentals in the city.

Multiple Troy residences are currentl­y listed for rent on Airbnb, a popular website that offers peer-to-peer short-term rental homes.

City Clerk Alton Starling said four of the bed-and-breakfast homes have either obtained or are in the process of obtaining a business license to operate rentals in the Troy city limits. Those include The Station, which was opened by Lyndsay and Jamie Taylor in Downtown Troy specifically for the purpose of overnight rentals; a three-bedroom home on Spradley Drive in the Country Club neighborhood; a three-bedroom home listed as Trojan Lodge on Trojan Way; and a two-bedroom apartment on Oak Street.

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Melissa Sanders, planning and zoning administrator, said city officials are currently reviewing how other cities have handled the new lodging process and determining whether any changes need to be made to more specifically regulate short-term rentals of this type.

“We are still looking into Airbnbs (and similar rentals),” Sanders said. “It’s relatively new and other cities have looked into this … I know that Tuscaloosa amended their zoning ordinance in July of 2017 to regulate them … With anything new and outside the box, we have to research it to make sure we’re doing what’s best for our city as a whole.”

The Airbnb company was founded in 2008 in San Francisco and has grown into a worldwide network of short-term rental homes. The company has more than 5 million lodging listings on its website – and it doesn’t own any of them. Instead, individual homeowners contact Airbnb to become a host home – the company collects a 3 percent host service fee and a guest services fee of up to 20 percent for the stay.

Taylor said she developed The Station with the intent of renting through Airbnb.

“When we started telling people we were doing this as an Airbnb, people looked at us like we were crazy,” Taylor said. “About 85 percent of the people we spoke with looked at us awkwardly because they were not familiar with what it is. It’s always fun to introduce people to what AirbnbB is. We kind of chose it for its ease of use.”

Taylor said getting the business approved with the city was not given the location.

“That was one of the first things we tried to find out about,” Taylor said. “If we would not have been able to get an adjustment approved, it would have shut it down 100 percent.”

Houses used for Airbnb or similar short-term rentals or bed and breakfast establishments are considered tourist homes under city code.

Sanders said there are residential zoning districts that would allow in some cases for tourist homes and some that don’t have specific allowances.

“R1 is our low-density residential zoning district,” Sanders said. “It does not have any allowance for a tourist home. RR (reserved residential) allows it on appeal to the board of adjustment. R3, high-density residential, allows for boarding tourists on appeal, but the boarding area cannot exceed 75 percent of the total area – it has to be a residence first and foremost.” Sanders said the R2 zoning does not specifically allow for tourist homes.

Most of the areas surrounding Troy University are zoned in the low-density residential R1 zoning, including streets such as Second Avenue, University Avenue and Magnolia Street. Other examples of R1 zoning include the Country Club neighborhood, Forest Circle, Murphree Street, Cottage Street and more. Examples of RR zoning include Oak Park, Prospect Ridge and Palos Verdes.

Examples of R2 zoning include most of Montgomery Street, Segars Street and Orion Street. R3 zones include Hubbard Street, Aster Avenue, Dunbar Drive, South Knox Street and Folmar Street.

For the downtown rentals, “The Station on Love Street” and another apartment on Oak Street., zoning already allows for apartments and things of this nature.

Sanders said the “Trojan Lodge” rental located on Trojan Way, in an RR zone, is allowed to operate as an Airbnb on appeal to the Board of Adjustments.

Another home up for rent on the site, a five-bedroom home on Spradley Drive, is located in R1 zoning. Sanders said the city is looking into the situation. The residence is one of the homes currently going through the licensing process.

Enforcing the regulations can prove difficult with web-based home rentals.

Part of the issue, Sanders said, is that Airbnb is only one company that does this. While officials can view the listings on the Airbnb site and see whether those homes are complying with the city’s zoning regulations, other houses potentially could be listed on lesser-known sites, making it hard to police every residence being offered as a short-term rental.