AUBURN, Ala. (WRBL) – A three-year mission clarifying how short-term and homestay rentals are conducted in the city of Auburn continues. At Tuesday night’s city council meeting, the issue became even more complicated with the introduction and passage of several amendments drastically altering the proposed ordinance.
The changes are so substantial the ordinance needs to be re-introduced to the community for legal purposes. The new changes resulted in a spirited debate between councilpersons and the community leading up to a March 16 council vote on the new ordinance.
Homestays include renting your primary residence. Short-term non-primary rentals involve using a house you own but is not your primary residence. Overall, both types of rental opportunities are significant financial opportunities. The changes discussed Tuesday night deal with homestays as several Auburn homeowners are interested in making extra income by renting to families for events, including AU graduations or athletic events.
“This is a financial opportunity for people. It’s important to note nothing has been passed yet, it’s all under consideration, and people can reach out to their city councilors to let their opinions be known,” said Auburn Mayor Ron Anders.
However, other homeowners are concerned renters could cause noise and parking problems, lower property values, and create nuisances within their neighborhoods, especially those who live in Neighborhood Conservation Zones.
“Everybody’s investment and concerns are important. The primary concerns are this could get out of hand, and you could be inviting people to your neighborhood that are not going to be respectful of your privacy or the way you want to live your life,” said Mayor Ron Anders.
Two years ago, with the advent of websites like Airbnb and Vrbo, short-term rentals became more prevalent in Auburn, and the city did not have an ordinance regulating the practice. In November 2018, Mayor Ron Anders appointed Ward 4 Councilperson Brett Smith, Ward 6 Councilperson Bob Parsons, and Planning Commission members Robert Ritenbaugh and Marcus Marshall, along with Anna Solomon, Evan Crawford, and Bruno Ulrich, to the Short-Term Rentals Task Force. The task force worked with residents and stakeholders to create regulations for rentals and present findings to the Planning Commission.
Ultimately, the Planning Commission approved a proposed ordinance concluding homestays may only be established as a home occupation business in several zoning districts, including Comprehensive Development District (CDD), Corridor Redevelopment District-Urban, Suburban, East and West (CRD-U, CRD-S, CRD-E, CRD-W*) Medium Density Residential District (MDRD), Neighborhood Redevelopment District (NRD*), Redevelopment District (RDD), Rural District (R), Urban Core (UC), and Urban Neighborhoods-West, East, and South (UN-W, UN-E, UN-S).
The ordinance specifically did not include Neighborhood Conservation Zones (NC) as task force findings showed a significant number of residents within NC Zones did not want short-term renters in their neighborhoods.
FEBRUARY 16 COUNCIL MEETING:
However, during the council meeting on Tuesday, February 16, Ward 3 councilor Beth Witten offered four amendments to the Auburn Planning Commission’s recommended ordinance, including making homestays acceptable all over the city, except for industrial zones and the South College Corridor District. The amendment opened up rental opportunities in Conservation Zones.
Three other proposed amendments tightened up restrictions.
The amendments include:
1) Allowing homestays — permanent residences also used as rentals — in all areas of the city except for Industrial and South College Corridor districts
2) Limiting the number of days a homestay can operate without the homeowner present from 120 to 90
3) Limiting the number of substantiated complaints renters can have before the zoning certificate is revoked from three to two
4) Restricting homestays from being used for private or commercial events
“That was a change because the original ordinance only allowed homestays in certain residential areas of town, and that is where all the discussion is, and all the debate is on right now is whether a homestay should be allowed to function primarily in our Neighborhood Conservations and DDH,LDD,LLRD Neighborhoods,” said Mayor Ron Anders.
Ward 6 councilperson Bob Parsons said the amendment opening up rentals city-wide “stunned” him saying it dismissed the work the task force had been doing since 2018 to get public input and present a framework to the Auburn Planning Commission for them to draft an ordinance.
Parsons represents a large group of citizens who live in Neighborhood Conservation Zones. Parsons says the city received more than 510 citizen support declarations via email and petition supporting the ordinance as it stood, without the amendments. Parsons cautioned against “opening the barn doors” to rentals all over the city and says the newly amended ordinance goes back on a promise to residents who live in the Neighborhood Conservation Districts.
“The concern is the potentially disruptive nature of short-term rentals that are irreconcilable with the written promise that our neighborhood’s character is preserved. That is written into the ordinance in the very title of Neighborhood Conservation. It’s a promise to the residents who are buying into it here, and I just can’t see anything that would cause me to break a promise such as that,” said Parsons.
During the council meeting, Witten explained the amendments she proposed were about creating equity in the ordinance and adding more restrictive guidelines to the current ordinance. Witten’s proposed amendments passed with a vote of five to three, with Parsons, Griswold, and Tommy Dawson opposed. Witten, Mayor Ron Anders, Brett Smith, Connie Taylor, and Jay Hovey voted in favor. Councilperson Steve Dixon recused himself from the issue, explaining he had a short-term rental and a strong bias.
Councilperson Parsons proposed an amendment of his own to exclude Neighborhood Conservation (NC) zones from Witten’s amendment, but it was not passed by the council.
The passage of Witten’s amendments is considered a substantive change, not advertised to the public. Therefore, the city will re-advertise the modifications to the proposed ordinance and hold another public hearing before the city council is expected to vote at the March 16 council meeting.
Mayor Ron Anders expects the debate will continue within the council and community. Anders voted for the amendments and to open up homestay rentals to more city areas, including NC zones.
“It has to be your home, you have to claim homestead if you want to use your home for short-term rentals, and this allows you to do that with rules. We have very tight regulations. You have to honor your neighbor by not allowing your guests to get loud or out of control; we have two strikes, you’re out policy, nor are you allowed to host parties or events at home. You are there to eat and sleep in the Homestay as you enjoy Auburn as a visitor,” said Mayor Ron Anders.
Parson’s will not vote in favor of the ordinance as it stands now. No matter where citizens fall on the issue, they are urged to contact their local councilperson if they feel passionately one way or another about the subject.
You can watch the full meeting of Tuesday’s City Council meeting, which included citizen input on the rental issue, by visiting Auburn’s website at auburnalabama.org
For more information on the complete amended ordinance and a Question and Answer sheet from the city, you can visit: Short-Term Rentals Feedback visit auburnalabama.org/short-term-rentals.
Allison Blankenship works as the Neighborhood Specialist with the City of Auburn. Blankenship is an expert on Homeowners Associations and short-term rentals and is tasked with working with homeowners on questions and concerns they may have involving city ordinances.
“If any resident or neighborhood group has a question about how the proposed ordinance would affect their neighborhood, I would be happy to assist them. In my role as Neighborhood Specialist, one of my goals is to provide residents with good information and helpful resources — that apply to the topic at hand or any city-related issue or service. I encourage people to reach out anytime, and I look forward to assisting them,” said Blankenship.
Blankenship can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Blankenship explains if you live in an area with a Homeowners Association, HOA covenants take precedence over zoning allowances. It’s possible for your neighborhood’s covenants to not allow for short-term rentals or any property rental without approval from the HOA Board.
If your neighborhood does not have an HOA, and many of the Neighborhood Conservations Zones do not, you can set up an HOA. The process involves:
- Forming a non-profit.
- Obtaining a name by the Secretary of state.
- Information documents filed on the state level and at the local Probate Office.
Keep in mind, the city cannot enforce HOA covenants, and any violation of the HOA is a private matter between the HOA and a homeowner.