Fayette County

Airbnb and other short-term rentals are big in Lexington. These people aren’t happy.

Rowdy porch parties. Bridal parties showing up on neighbor’s door steps. Bands and music playing late into the night.

Short-term rentals are giving some Lexington neighborhoods long-term headaches, neighbors told the Lexington council Tuesday.

“These Airbnbs have taken over a large portion of our neighborhood,” said Jennifer Braddock, who lives on Third Street and is an officer with the Northside Neighborhood Association. “We’ve had problems with noise. We have had issues with them being rented out to bridal parties and bands playing late at night. It was rented out to a sorority who treated the other houses on the street as sororities and were knocking on doors.”

Braddock and other members of downtown neighborhoods, including Gratz Park and Ashland Park, urged city officials during a Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council meeting Tuesday to strengthen and better enforce rules regulating short-term rentals as they have exploded in popularity in Kentucy’s second-largest city.

No home owner in Ashland Park “signed up to live next to a hotel or motel,” said Mark Streety of the Ashland Park Neighborhood Association. But that’s whats happening, Streety said. A 16-member bridal party also rented a home in that neighborhood. It didn’t go well, he said.

“They were knocking on doors asking for kitchen utensils,” Streety said.

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File photo

Lexington is trying to better track short-term rentals but it hasn’t been easy, said Rusty Cook, director of revenue collection for the city.

It inked a deal with Airbnb, one of the largest web-based short-term rental websites, to collect hotel and motel taxes from its hosts and remit them to the city in February 2018.

In 2017, Lexington hosts earned more than $3.1 million through Airbnb short-term rentals.

That agreement took more than a year to negotiate. Airbnb collects the tax and remits it back to the city, which makes it easier to collect, Cook said. But the city does not get a list of Airbnb hosts as part of that agreement, he said.

The city has so far not been able to get similar deals with other short-term rental websites, including FlipKey.com, VRBO.com, and HomeAway.com, Cook said. The council took its first vote Tuesday on a resolution backing the city’s push to get those websites to collect local taxes. A final vote will come in a few weeks.

“Basically, they have ignored us,” Cook said. “We can’t get a call back.”

Meanwhile, city staff regularly check those websites and send hosts letters telling them they must remit taxes to the city, Cook said.

Hosts are also required to get a business license and remit sales and hotel taxes to the state.

The number of hosts and websites for short-term rentals has exploded in recent years.

In 2017, Skift, a travel industry group, predicted local hosts across the world would make more than $189 billion by renting homes and apartments through short-term rental websites, Cook said.

Some cities are now hiring “Airbnb police” companies to clamp down on illegally-operating short-term rentals. In Nashville, the city hired Host Compliance, a private investigation firm, which found more than 1,000 illegally operating short-term rentals. The city hired two additional inspectors in May to go after scofflaws.

The issue of how Lexington polices short-term rentals is part of the debate over whether the city should allow accessory dwelling units — smaller units in residential areas that could include smaller, tiny houses or converted garages, attics and basements.

The proposed ordinance, which will get its first vote on Sept. 26 before the Planning Commission, would require an owner to live on the property if the accessory dwelling unit is a short-term rental. The owner would not be required to live on the property if it is a long-term rental.

Councilman James Brown said the resolution backing the city’s efforts to collect from other short-term websites is just the first step.

“But this is not a ‘cure all’ before we get into the weeds and regulate short-term rentals,” Brown said.

Councilman Bill Farmer Jr., who has formed a work group to look at short-term rentals, said the issue will likely come back to a council committee in October. That effort will consider possible changes to city ordinances that would address the issues Braddock and others mentioned during Tuesday’s work session.