Fayette County

Lexington wants to crack down on Airbnb and short-term rentals. Why some are opposed.

Short-term rental hosts urged the Lexington council during a Tuesday meeting to revisit proposed changes to city ordinances that would up oversight of Airbnbs and other popular short-term rental platforms.

“Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water,” said Micah Miller, who recently purchased a property and rents it as a short-term rental. Miller and other short-term rental hosts told the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council Planning and Public Safety Committee they had concerns the proposed changes would create an undue burden on them.

Under the proposal unveiled Tuesday, all short-term rental hosts would have to pay a $100 registration fee. Hosts would also be required to pay all city hotel taxes, would have to file monthly reports to the city on their number of rentals and could face fines for violating city ordinances. Only one rental would be allowed per week, or 52 rentals per year.

Hosts would get a Lexington license number and that number must be advertised on short-term rental websites.

The city would also have the ability to revoke a short-term rental license for repeat violations.

Councilman Bill Farmer Jr., whose district includes downtown neighborhoods such as Chevy Chase, has spearheaded the changes after getting multiple complaints about lax oversight of short-term rentals.

Farmer said after Tuesday’s meeting the council will likely make some tweaks to the ordinance. It’s possible the ordinance will come back up for further discussion at the Planning and Public Safety Committee meeting next month.

Last month, many neighbors of short-term rentals told the council the city needed to increase oversight of the popular web-based rental option. The complaints included late-night partying, out-of-control bachelorette parties and other disruptive conduct.

Lexington is not the only city struggling with oversight of short-term rentals. Some cities such as Boston require that only owner-occupied units can be rented after seeing a jump in the number of apartment buildings that were once long-term rentals flip to short-term rentals, creating a housing crunch in a city that has long struggled with affordable housing.

Nashville recently hired additional code enforcement officers to suss out unregistered short-term hosts that weren’t paying city taxes. The staff were hired after a private investigation firm found more than 1,000 unregistered short-term rentals.

The Louisville Metro Council also upped oversight of short-term rentals after passing changes to its ordinance in April. Many of the provisions in Lexington’s ordinance model Louisville’s ordinance.

The proposed changes in Lexington do not require the unit to be owner-occupied. If a host has two substantial violations, they could face a fine of $125 for a first-time offense. The penalties climb to $1,000 for four or more violations.

Those fines could be appealed to the code enforcement hearing board. The board could also subpoena short-term rental platforms for information on who is operating in the city.

The city has worked out an agreement with Airbnb for Lexington hosts to collect local hotel taxes and remit those taxes to the city. But it’s the only hosting website that has agreed to collect and remit local taxes, city officials have said.

Councilman Chuck Ellinger Jr. owns a short-term rental and said during Tuesday’s meeting he will not vote on any possible changes to the ordinance. Still, Ellinger asked if bed and breakfasts had similar regulations.

Director of Planning Jim Duncan said bed and breakfasts typically must get a conditional use permit, which has to be approved by a city planning board. Bed and breakfasts don’t have to submit monthly reports to the city, Duncan said, and don’t have a separate $100 fee, city officials said.

Many short-term hosts said they do not have a problem with oversight but said they should not be required to do more than a bed and breakfast or a hotel.

Fran Taylor has two short-term rentals. She said the city should not require short-term rentals to file monthly reports on the number of stays if bed and breakfasts and hotel and motels aren’t required to do so.

City officials have said bed and breakfasts and hotels and motels automatically pay local taxes. The city doesn’t know how many short-term rentals there are in Lexington and don’t know how many are paying the 8.5 percent local hotel tax.

Taylor said limiting rentals to one per week is impractical.

David Gaither, who also has several short-term rentals, agreed.

“That will kick a lot of people off the platform because it won’t be profitable,” Gaither said.

Not everyone opposed the changes.

Mark Streety, president of the Ashland Park Neighborhood Association, said short-term rentals can turn neighborhoods into a place with no neighbors. Ashland Park is one of the neighborhoods that have had repeated problems with short-term rentals.

Streety said his neighborhood supports most of the proposed changes and would support an owner-occupancy requirement.

“We liked the registration and accountability,” Streety said. “We have seen lax accountability.”

At least one council member said Tuesday the proposed changes need more work.

Councilwoman Angela Evans said the current proposal was “over-reaching.”

“This body needs to decide what we are trying to fix,” Evans said. “We may be treating one type of business different than others.”

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