Over the past three years, vacation rental owners and their managers have witnessed a significant number of regulatory changes that impact the way vacation rental owners and managers operate. It is not new for city and county governments to respond to vacation rental activity. Long-established vacation rental markets have faced regulatory changes for decades, enabling the collection of tax revenue and promoting responsible vacation rental operations. However, local governments that did not have a well-regulated vacation rental industry have found it challenging to regulate these rentals in recent years, resulting in a patchwork of regulations and legal disputes across the country.
The COVID-19 pandemic led to government-imposed travel restrictions, especially to urban centers, resulting in a surge in demand for vacation rentals and creating a boon for the industry. Historically low interest rates that emerged in 2020 led to an increase in investment in vacation rental homes, thereby causing a sharp rise in vacation rental supply and activity, with varying levels of property manager and owner engagement. With the surge in house purchases in traditional and nontraditional vacation rental markets alike, long-time residents began to express frustration with the number of long-term residential homes being converted to vacation rental use. Most complaints focused on the traditional manageable neighbor complaints of excess trash, noise nuisances, and too many cars causing parking frustrations. More residents also voiced concerns about the change to the character of neighborhoods presented by the emergence of more homes owned for vacation rental use.
Regulatory change in cities as a response to more supply of vacation rentals has only accelerated. Seeming daily, news outlets report on local government actions designed to regulate and sometimes ban vacation rentals. As the industry has rapidly expanded, anti-vacation rental industry voices have become louder with improved messaging, making it more important than ever to have organized pro-vacation rental advocacy efforts in each market where the industry exists. National organizations such as the Vacation Rental Management Association (VRMA) and Rent Responsibly are crucial to these efforts, providing local vacation rental owners and property managers with toolkits and support for their organizing efforts. The resulting organized coalitions are growing across the nation, with varying levels of success in preventing overburdensome regulations or prohibitions on vacation rental operations in communities.
While organizing pro-vacation rental coalitions is the most important first step in preserving the industry, attention must be turned to how to make these coalitions more effective. In order to be more effective in achieving the intended result of fair regulation, vacation rental managers and owners would be well served to adopt strategies and tactics borrowed from, led by, or advised by professional advocates. Government relations experts are advocacy professionals with extensive knowledge of government operations and the policymaking process. These experts provide guidance and strategies that help stakeholders navigate the complex regulatory landscape, build relationships with local decision-makers, and effectively communicate positions to policymakers. Their strategy and tactics, at a bare minimum, should be adopted and, in some cases, coalitions would benefit from hiring these professional advocates.
Lobbyists, consultants, or other advocacy professionals often get their start in their careers due to proximity to elected and appointed officials. These professionals prioritize relationships. There is a great deal to be gained by way of properly managing relationships with the right policymakers. Whether appointed planning commissioners or elected city or county council members, professional advocates take the time to understand the desires and pressures facing these public officials. The old adage that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care comes to mind when thinking about professional advocates. Rarely do they prioritize the issue over the relationship with the public servant. Often vacation rental managers and owners, in their passion and zeal, push their position without taking the time to create personal relationships or understand the interests of the public servant. The most effective advocates have such a close relationship with a public servant they can arrange expedient meetings with officials or send a text to the official’s phone and receive a speedy reply while that official is in the midst of council deliberations. This focus on relationships is an invaluable professional approach.
Most professional advocates take time to understand the varying stakeholders involved in the issue they are advocating for. This involves taking the time go through a stakeholder mapping process that involves first identifying people and advocacy groups who are supporters of your positions, and those who are against, and second, identifying levels of influence of each party. This sophisticated tactic, if used correctly, can be instrumental for vacation rental owners and managers in their advocacy efforts.
Professional advocates are also very adept at understanding when it is the right moment to effectively pitch a message to public officials, whether before or during the planning commission stage or before or during the city or county council stage. Most frequently, professional advocates will identify changes to ordinances while they are in an applicable commission prior to submission to elected officials for a vote. In many cities and counties, this is the planning commission. Here, appointed officials may be persuaded by community stakeholders to advance or stop a regulation. Ideally, influence is wielded here or with city or county staff before the elected city or county council members are asked to vote on a particular change in the ordinance. Even so, if a proposed ordinance change does come to elected officials, then there is still an opportunity to influence to process, and sometimes more effectively based on an election cycle or desires of the constituency of each elected council member. This analysis and action can be adopted and implemented with great success by vacation rental owners and managers.
The choice of whether to hire a professional advocate or simply borrow their “playbook” is one to be considered by each coalition on a case-by-case basis. While there are costs associated with hiring professional advocates or seeking professional advice, the benefits of doing so can be substantial, especially for vacation rental owners and managers who are seeking to grow their businesses and navigate complex regulatory environments. Depending on the specific needs of the owner or association, the cost of hiring a professional advocate may vary. Some professionals may be available for part-time work, while others may require a full-time commitment. There is also no harm in “going it alone” so to speak, as long as the managers and owners have done their proper research on how to effectively and professionally advocate the interests of the industry.
Finally, it is essential to remember that vacation rental owners and managers are the most effective voice in advocacy efforts. While professional advocates and their strategies and tactics can provide valuable support, it is the voices of those in the business that carry the most weight. By combining the expertise of professional advocates with the passion and knowledge of managers and owners, more wins can be gained for the industry as a whole.
R.C. Rondero de Mosier has made a career of providing expert counsel and advocacy to emerging high-growth businesses, their entrepreneurs, and investors. For the past several years, R.C. has focused on advancing policy interests in the short-term and vacation rental industry. He has worked in-house for two successful venture-backed short-term rental property management companies and now advises property management owners and companies on their policy strategy and tactics with STR Advocates and Smart City Policy Group.