Airbnb, other short-term rentals stay under the radar

By on September 5, 2016

Seveal houses and rooms in Duck are offered on Airbnb.com

The Duck Planning Board will consider next week how, if at all, the town should regulate the increasing number of residences being advertised on popular online marketplaces that rent rooms and sections of homes on a daily basis.

Duck is the first town on the Outer Banks to address the issue, which has some larger metropolitan areas in North Carolina scrambling for ways to manage the exploding trend of renting out individual rooms or properties through Airbnb, VRBO, HomeAway and other online venues.

Duck Planning Director Joe Heard said there are a few dozen properties in town that are advertised through such marketplaces, but it is difficult to determine how they are being rented.

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“As long as it is being used as a single-family residence, we can’t regulate ownership, so there’s not much we can do with the daily rental of an entire house,” said Heard.

Officials are more concerned with the practice of renting rooms or portions of a home on a daily basis — essentially operating like a small hotel.

Several months ago, the Town Council asked the board to investigate options for regulating these types of rentals. According to a staff report, several properties appear to be renting individual rooms. Some are renting separate units, creating nonconforming duplexes.

“Renting individual rooms on a nightly basis can result in reclassifying a single-family residence into a rooming or boarding house,” according to a town Community Development report. “In response to complaints in the past, the Community Development staff has followed up with enforcement action in cases where improper use of a property is occurring.”

The report also states that regulating or prohibiting this type of use would ensure “that the intensity of use and single-family residential character are maintained throughout residential neighborhoods in the Town of Duck.”

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Short-term rentals are permitted in the zoning ordinance, but in the past, the town has interpreted it to mean homes rented on a weekly basis. Staff said that the definition may be outdated in light of the changing rental market.

Heard said the Planning Board is considering whether to define the practice of daily rentals of rooms or portions of a house and what standards or limitations should be applied. “The concern is that they may be operating like a small hotel or bed and breakfast and the owners may or may not be there,” he said.

While Airbnb has an agreement with North Carolina that requires property owners to pay lodging fees, Heard said local realty agencies have voiced some concern that the rentals don’t have to adhere to similar safety and health standards.

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Agency representatives were also concerned that a bad experience could reflect negatively on Duck and the Outer Banks, Heard said.

Nancy Caviness, who has owned and operated the Advice 5 Cents Bed and Breakfast in Duck for the past 21 years, says industry leaders are experiencing a whole new landscape when in comes to accommodations and that caution should be taken when it comes to the “anyone can do it” niche.

“It’s not good or bad, it’s just different and everyone has had to adapt to the new landscape,” she said.

While Caviness is a member of the Duck Town Council, she was speaking from an industry perspective when she said short-term rentals on marketplaces such as Airbnb, Homeaway and VRBO do not have to adhere to the same regulations as a bona fide bed and breakfast or hotel.

Caviness, who operates one of the sole lodging facilities in Duck, said the increasing number of rentals advertised on those marketplaces should be considered a “wild card” for consumers. They should take a “buyer beware” approach and consider the lodgings could be representing something they are not.

“Here, we have to be inspected by the health department, we are built to code and take safety very seriously. We have exit lighting and fire exits are marked, have insurance and adequate parking,” she said.

Other municipalities in Dare County have not taken up the issue of regulating daily rentals of rooms. “It’s not on our radar yet,” said Nags Head Deputy Town Manager Andy Garman.

Kill Devil Hills Senior Planner Bryan Brightbill said the town does not have any regulations and is not looking to adopt any for short-term rentals. He said some homeowners associations and condominium associations in town do address those types of rentals in their restrictive covenants.

The planning board is scheduled to meet Wednesday, Sept. 14 at 6 p.m.


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