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4 Questions Asked During COVID-19 That Expose Gaps in Short-Term Rental Enforcement

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At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, city dwellers fled their homes for rural and suburban areas, where resources — from healthcare to code enforcement — were strapped to handle these influxes of quarantine vacationers. Government leaders and residents expressed public safety concerns as visitors came from places where virus cases were spiking. In response, many communities across the U.S. suspended short-term vacation rentals (STRs). However, listings on websites like Airbnb and VRBO continued to advertise rental units as places to social distance, with toilet paper and hand sanitizer included.

Municipalities tried to crack down on unauthorized STR use, hoping to lessen the spread of COVID-19 in their communities, but some municipalities were met with cracks in their regulatory systems. These common questions arose from the top difficulties that municipalities faced when suspending short-term rental operations during the onset of the COVID-19 crisis.

Who Is Renting?

To ensure hosts receive pertinent information during a crisis — for example, learning of an STR ordinance suspension — you must communicate with them directly. While you may have contact information for registered hosts, you may not have contact information for hosts who are operating illegally. You may not know where STR units are or who is operating them in the first place.

STR compliance and monitoring software automatically identifies STR units and their addresses for you. Using this information, you can contact unregistered hosts by mail to encourage them to apply for a permit. You can also use this opportunity to inform hosts of the repercussions of avoiding compliance.

Only 10 percent of hosts will register for a permit without prompting. Direct communication with hosts can increase your compliance rate substantially.

How Do We Communicate With Hosts Quickly and Effectively?

Mail may be an effective form of communication when the message isn't urgent. However, during times of crisis, your communication should be as rapid as new developments. Email and text messaging can deliver messages — about shutdowns, reopening, mask mandates, or safety and cleaning procedures — to hosts instantly.

When creating an ordinance, you can ask hosts to provide contact information, including email addresses and phone numbers, when they apply for a permit. By proactively gathering a host's contact information, you ensure that communications about safety and closures reach them promptly, so they can begin to comply with any changes.

How Do We Prove If STRs Are Operating During a Suspension?

A complaint alone is not enough evidence to prove that an STR is operating illegally. Gathering evidence about short-term rentals can be time-consuming (e.g. trying to catch violators in the act by visiting a possible rental on a weekend). Often, evidence gathered — pictures of other violations resulting from the rental such as trash and parking issues — is inadmissible. Attempting to gather evidence like this is not only a waste of time, but during a public health crisis, it puts code enforcement officers at risk by going into the community. STR compliance and monitoring software can identify whether a rental of a unit occurred during a certain period, and if your short-term rental ordinance is based on the advertising of a rental, the software can document which rentals are still advertising.

How Do We Enforce Suspension in a Work-From-Home Environment?

Not only does software eliminate the need to try and catch illegal STRs in the act, saving hours of a code enforcement officer's time, but the software is especially useful for municipalities that need remote work capabilities. A code enforcement officer could continue the enforcement process — identifying rentals and communicating with hosts — without ever leaving their homes, minimizing their exposure to the virus.

If your agency experienced similar challenges during the coronavirus pandemic, it may be time to evaluate your ordinances around short-term rentals and/or consider adding short-term rental compliance and monitoring software to automate enforcement and communicate important information to hosts.

A strong ordinance and a proactive approach can not only prepare you for the crisis but also provide a sustainable system for regulation. By encouraging compliance with local laws, you can increase permit and tax collection to offset the costs of regulation. Automation allows more time for staff to focus on other issues as well.

Visit our site for more information about the current state of short-term rentals in your jurisdiction.

About the Content Author and Sponsor: Granicus

Granicus provides citizen engagement technologies and services for the public sector, bringing governments closer to the people they serve. Over 350 agencies trust our Host Compliance software to identify short-term vacation rentals across 60+ rental platforms, educate hosts, enforce regulations, recover much-needed revenue, and preserve community character.

August 24, 2020