Auburn creating ordinance to restrict short-term housing rentals

Two women walk past apartments on Wright Street, near Toomer’s Corner in Auburn on Thursday. The city of Auburn is looking to create an ordinance that may restrict short-term housing rentals, such as AirBnB, in certain areas.

The city of Auburn has recently been dealing with an issue in which there is no precedent – restricting short-term residential housing rentals throughout the city.

A quick search on rental websites such as Airbnb.com and VRBO.com, sites that allow occupants of a residence to rent out portions of that residence, pulls up several hundred short-term rental options in Auburn and the city has been working on dealing with the logistics of these rentals.

The city offers information to citizens through press releases and additional methods to discourage short-term housing rentals with information on the city’s unrelated occupancy ordinance, lodging taxes and how leasing ones primary home could negatively affect their homestead exemption status with Lee County, but the city of Auburn does not currently have an ordinance that specifically addresses short-term rentals.

Auburn City Manager Jim Buston said the city is in the process of creating an ordinance to address short-term rentals and has been reviewing ordinances in similar cities.

“We’ve been getting sample ordinances from places like Charlottesville, Tuscaloosa, from other communities that have large universities as part of their community, and we’re trying to see how we can come up with something that is fair to everyone, fair to those people that don’t want short-term rentals in their community, and those people who do want to have short-term rentals in their community,” Buston said. “So, right now, it’s very complicated for us to enforce. We don’t really have a good mechanism to enforce this.”

The city’s ordinance that focuses on unrelated occupancy, in which no more than two unrelated individuals can live at the same residence, has offered some guidance.

“If you rent to a group of unrelated (occupants) in those zones that are designated as restricted for unrelated, than that is in violation and we can do something about that,” Buston said. “But as long as you are renting to a family or related people, we have no mechanism to say you can’t do that.”

Buston added that the city hopes to have a new ordinance to present to city council within the next six months, but even with a new ordinance the issue may still persist.

“We’ve found from other cities that we’ve talked to that even the ordinances that they’ve done, it’s almost impossible to enforce them,” Buston said. “Tuscaloosa says they just kind of ignore it. Charlottesville said they focus on collecting taxes, not on enforcing the ordinance.”

With a new ordinance there will more than likely still be an option for the city to offer short-term rentals in certain areas.

“At this point, I can’t say that for sure because there are legal issues that we have to look at,” Buston said. ”There are a lot of things that we have to look at.”

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