Public opinion is in our favor. The Pew Research Center’s recently published study “Shared, Collaborative and On Demand: The New Digital Economy” includes eye-opening information on public opinion regarding short-term rental regulations. Only 1 in 20 people surveyed knows of the ongoing regulatory debate in the short-term rental market. The survey further noted that 82 percent of adults believed that the renting of homes through online platforms should be legal. This data exhibits that if we, as an industry, continue to educate the public through advocacy, we yield greater support. This will require our members to directly engage local officials and their communities on the importance of vacation rentals.
Here are some steps you can take to begin that engagement and help fight short-term rental regulations.
Connect with Your Public Officials
You should develop a relationship with your public officials whether your community has participated in the short-term rental debate or not. We cannot expect public officials at any level of government to fully understand all industries. Start locally by writing a short letter to the council to introduce your business. Do this for the location of your main office and where you manage properties. You want to explain what it is you do and how you maintain your properties. You also want to note how many years you have been in business, how long you have represented the specific property or properties in their community and how many people you employ.
Another method of connecting to local public officials is to attend a meeting and simply introduce yourself and your business. Often, our public officials are very busy and it is difficult to get in touch with them. A sure way to grab their attention is to attend a council meeting and introduce yourself. There is usually an opportunity to interact with your legislator before or after the meeting. The size of the legislative body may make this more difficult, but usually there is enough of an opportunity to approach them and say hello while mentioning your business name.
Connecting with your public officials does not have to be self-serving; you can attend a public hearing or participate in a public planning meeting. These open meetings provide a chance for you to express an opinion from the perspective of your business and become a visible advocate. This type of interaction can also catch the attention of a reporter and gain a mention in the local news.
Define your issues
Regulations aren’t cookie cutter. Every community faces a different set of reasons for regulatory framework and not all regulations are bad for our industry. We often say that we, as an industry, do not support onerous and burdensome regulations. Defining what is onerous and burdensome can be different for each manager. If your community proposes regulations, you must decide what you can work with and what will severely restrict your ability to continue to offer a valuable and desired consumer lodging option.
Read through the proposal and categorize the different aspects of the regulations into three categories: Good, bad and somewhere in between. While examining each section of the proposed regulations, ask yourself some questions to help you categorize their effects. For example:
- Does this severely limit my ability to rent a property?
- How much would it cost to implement the requirement of ____?
- How does that requirement affect the property owner?
After you categorize the proposals, focus on the bad and write down a reason or two for each proposal to explain why it is harmful to the community and vacation rentals.
Once you have completed this, you can move to the next stage of communicating your concerns.
This stage of advocacy can take many different forms, especially depending on the amount of time you have outside of your normal workday. If you hear rumors of potential short-term rental regulations, or a proposal has been made, it is time to act. Hopefully you have established some relationships with your public officials. If not, do not fret. You still have time to establish contact and your opinions are still just as important.
If your community is still in the preliminary stages, you will want to request a meeting with the chief administrative officer or the head of the department that is putting together the ordinance. In many communities, this could be the city manager, the planning director, the director of community development or a host of other positions.
If your community has already proposed a regulatory plan, then you want to schedule a meeting with your mayor and city council member(s) or, in some cases, the planning commission members. Meeting with your council and planning commission members may take a little more effort. You will need to schedule several meetings to meet with the various members of the council due to public meeting laws. Once your meetings are set you can begin communicating your issues.
To communicate effectively with public officials, you will want to be clear and concise, remain focused on the issue at hand and keep the conversation as fact-based as possible. This is where you can utilize your categorized list of good, bad and somewhere in between. Be fair and define which regulations you support; this will demonstrate your willingness to compromise. After, you can define the individual policies that are not good for your business or the property owners. Try to emphasize the economic benefit of vacation rentals every chance you can. If there is one thing all public officials seem to understand it’s that everyone likes jobs and a growing economy.
Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself over the course of the discussion. The public official is going to be receiving many points of view on an issue. Repeating yourself via letters, email and conversation will help to solidify your point of view and help it stick in your audience’s mind.
These quick tips are a good starting point to begin advocating on behalf of the vacation rental industry. There are more steps and other tactics that can and should be used but it’s best to start with the basics. Keep building those relationships and in time you will find more allies on your side when restrictive regulations appear or reappear.