Short-term rentals committee finishes findings meetings

The special committee on short-term vacation rentals met for the fourth time Dec. 6, but this time there was a new person in the chairman’s seat and a new councilman on board. Jim Love, District 14 Councilman, was appointed the new chair after District 11 Councilman Danny Becton abruptly resigned from the committee. 

Taking Becton’s place as the third member was Council President Aaron Bowman, who represents District 3. Ju’Coby Pittman, District 8, is also on the committee which was tasked last fall to move Duval County forward with a plan to begin collecting the 6 percent bed tax from owners of short-stay vacation rental properties. A report in July from Kyle Billy, Jacksonville City Council Auditor, indicated the county is failing to collect $366,000 per year from vacation rental companies such as Airbnb. At the Dec. 6 meeting, Bowman noted the City probably missed between $35,000 and $40,000 in bed taxes just during the Florida-Georgia football game weekend.

Since the committee convened its first meeting Oct. 11, there has been a lot of public interest on the matter. In addition to vacation rental industry representatives, citizens on both sides of the issue have attended the meetings to voice their opinions. One stalwart attendee is Terry Moore, a real estate attorney who served for seven years on the City’s Housing Commission and the Duval County Housing Authority under two mayors. He spoke again at the committee’s fourth meeting, requesting that the legislation require rental homes in the historic neighborhoods be mandated as owner-occupied.

“Create the legislation in the context of defined limited zoning overlay districts,” he said. “Short term rentals compete with hotels and divert tourists out of the hotels and into the neighborhoods.”

Property owners choosing to rent a room or two, or a whole house, are doing so illegally in certain zoning districts, so the committee is trying to draft legislation which would permit certain types of rentals in specific areas.

But it’s not just a matter of turning a wrong into a right and then collecting taxes. At issue are the property rights of single-family homeowners living adjacent to or in the same block as a home which is available for rent. “One house violating the law affects five or six neighbors,” said Moore, whose daughter’s family is currently at odds with such a neighbor.   

Nancy Powell, board chair for Riverside Avondale Preservation, also spoke at the latest meeting but made it clear she did so as a private citizen, not on behalf of RAP. “A distinction can and should be made with owner-occupied vs. non-occupied rentals because most of the problems come with the non-owner-occupied houses,” she said, noting Nashville has two sets of laws, with non-owner-occupied rentals not allowed in certain low-density and residential districts.

Jason Teal, Deputy General Counsel for the City, who was charged by the committee with drafting legislation, cautioned that if they make the regulations too stringent, “people will ignore them and hope they don’t get caught.” 

Among the items discussed for the legislation were a registration process; compliance and enforcement of the laws; operational restrictions; an appeal mechanism for revocation of license; neighborhood notices upon application; penalties for violations, and other issues.

The committee is hoping to meet again toward the end of January to review the first draft of the bill.

Another point of view

Connie Jo Gandy and her husband, Leslie, own a 1921 home in Riverside, which they are restoring. The house next door and the one behind them are fully operational short-term rental properties, but Gandy said the property owners are “more attentive than ever before.” The Gandys also own a 1941 duplex in San Marco, which they bought in 2001 and had rented to long-term tenants until 2014, when they signed on with Airbnb. 

Gandy’s perspective on short-term rentals is positive from several aspects.

“Over the nearly 18 years we have owned the rental property [in San Marco], there have been ongoing issues with the long-term tenants surrounding my rental property. I actually see this as a landlord issue as they could easily require/ask their tenants to keep the property up, or make sure of it themselves,” she said. “This disarray was hard for my long-term tenants to bear. The short-term guests are usually not here long enough and are focused on other activities, so that the bits of mayhem that bother me, they [the long-term tenants] seem to not notice or are able to overlook as it is temporary.”

Gandy has a strict house rules in her short-term rental agreement, permitting no parties, no extra guests or outside voices after 9 p.m., no smoking inside or outside, no scented candles or air fresheners (she is highly allergic), no shoes in the house, and parking is off-street. “These rules are stated right up front and agreed to by the guest at booking,” she said. “If they break these rules, they risk being made to leave without a refund, being charged additional fees, and/or an unfavorable review.” 

Perhaps because Gandy is a conscientious rental host, she hopes the new rules are not onerous for the short-term rental business in Jacksonville. “I am all for clarity. We hosts talk to one another and have learned we have not received consistent direction by the City of Jacksonville as to how we are to properly operate,” Gandy said. “The current ‘guidelines’ are vague at best.”

She is licensed with the State, collects and submits local taxes, but does not feel an owner-occupied house host should have to go all the licensing if taxes are collected by the platform, as Airbnb does currently with State sales tax, and proposes to do for the county’s bed tax.

“I love the idea of a simple, affordable registry with a valid point of contact for each property listed. I feel hosts would like this as we want every stay to be a success all around,” she said. “The vast majority of hosts and guests want the stay to go well for all. And on Airbnb, the mutual reviews are extremely helpful in keeping the trust and transparency front and center.”

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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