You Thought You Had Private Property?
by Julia Morriss
With websites like Airbnb and VRBO expanding, finding an inexpensive place to stay during vacation is easier than ever. Airbnb and VRBO allow homeowners to rent out a spare bedroom or empty apartment to someone at a lower cost than most hotels. It doesn’t seem like there should be a problem with a homeowner charging guests to stay in their spare room for the weekend. It looks like a win-win for both the owner and the renter.
The city of Savannah, Ga. disagrees.
In December, the city sent out 45 cease-and-desist notices to home renters who posted on various online rental sites. Resident Mark DeWitt was threatened with a $1,000 fine for every property he listed on a vacation rental site because the properties are in areas not zoned for inns and B&Bs. DeWitt argued that he should not be subject to the same rules because he does not provide the same services as traditional inns or B&Bs and only advertises on vacation rental websites. Typically, people renting out their homes do not serve breakfast and do not advertise with signs on their property, restricting themselves to online sites.
Vickie Weaver faces a similar issue. Weaver bought a foreclosed house and was able to fix up the property with income she got from renting to guests who stayed in her home.
The city has considered changing its laws to allow short-term rentals, and to collect taxes similar to those paid by hotels, but the rules are simply not clear. Rather than threaten homeowners with draconian fines for trying to make an extra buck off their spare rooms, the city should allow short-term rentals to flourish. So long as homeowners have safe properties and carry proper insurance, why should Savannah stop people from making a buck by welcoming tourists to stay in their empty rooms?