Short-term rental regulations have significantly increased over the past few years as cities struggle with how to regulate—and understand—our industry. Not all regulations are unreasonable or unnecessary, but the current regulatory landscape poses a threat to our businesses, with growing operating costs and a reduction of eligible rental properties.
Caring for homes in 400+ vacation destinations, Vacasa has seen this shift firsthand and has been involved in active policy and compliance conversations across our markets. We’re proud to be a leading supporter of the VRMA Advocacy Fund and have a dedicated public affairs taskforce to help inform and activate our homeowner base, as well as coordinate with local coalitions who are representing our collective interests. We all need to work together to advocate for fair, reasonable, and enforceable regulations, just as cities and counties look to each other for policy ideas, because not taking action is no longer an option.
Last October’s VRMA International Conference only underscored the immediacy and importance of this issue, with standing room only at the two roundtable sessions I co-hosted with industry colleagues on government affairs and advocacy. A common dilemma that we heard throughout the room was uncertainty on how to take action when concerning regulations are proposed. It can be daunting (and sometimes disheartening) to engage in government activity, but half the battle is taking the right approach.
While every market and proposed regulation has unique elements, here are six guidelines on how best to take action when it comes to short-term rental regulations and advocacy.
1. Get Involved Early
If you hear rumblings that your local government is planning to introduce new—or reassess existing—short-term rental regulations, make contact immediately.
Find out if they’re scheduling meetings or workshops to gather public feedback and proactively engage with local policymakers by requesting a casual sit down. To establish a constructive working relationship, start from square one and listen to their concerns and goals (more on that in step four), then seek to educate. Do they understand the difference between Airbnb and local, professional property managers and how proposals, even inadvertently, could affect one but not the other? Many don’t, so always start with the basics and help them understand your business and the industry at large.
Additionally, check to see if a local industry and homeowner alliance already exists so you can present a united front and mobilize early. I’ll discuss this in more detail below, but VRMA Advocate and Rent Responsibly both have helpful databases of local and statewide coalitions, along with frameworks to set one up.
2. Identify the Impact and Prioritize the Risks
Assess and prioritize the risks to your business and determine what outcome will be acceptable to you and the vacation rental industry. Before you can identify a desirable outcome, you must look at the regulations being discussed and understand how it impacts both existing operations and future growth. Which policies, like response time or signage requirements, may be inconvenient but operationally feasible, versus others that are so unreasonably stringent that homeowners may opt not to rent or even try to skirt compliance.
At this point, it may be advisable to consult an in-state attorney to help with the assessment, and also identify gaps in the ordinance and potential inconsistencies with state law. Once you have the full picture of what the potential impact is, you’ll be better positioned for next steps.
3. Find Opportunities for Compromise
To be effective, we often need to consider a win-win approach. How we gauge success when it comes to advocacy has changed in recent years and while all-out industry wins do still occur and are what we fight for, successful compromises are far more common.
Through the process of identifying an ordinance’s impact, you should have a ranking of which policies are most detrimental or unnecessarily burdensome. For those that rank lower, express a willingness to accept (or even support) them, especially if the other side is willing to compromise on other points. Along with your industry partners, look to provide examples of ordinances that have been effective, along with those that have been ineffective, in similar markets.
4. Understand the Issues on the Other Side
Hopefully you were able to sit down with policymakers or attend public meetings in order to get a sense of what officials are trying to accomplish with new regulations. The city’s motivation may be different or more nuanced than that of local opposition groups.
Then the question becomes: Does the proposed ordinance effectively address the issues they say they’re trying to solve? If not, speak up. This is where property managers have the ability to be a powerful resource, but it’s also where industry interests may diverge. The goals of professional property managers may not always align with those of listing platforms, depending on the content of an ordinance, so be aware of who’s representing the “industry voice.”
Municipalities often fumble when it comes to implementation and enforcement, and the ordinances with the highest rate of compliance are those that are clear and not overly complicated. The sooner that industry advocates can flag flaws or overly vague elements of an ordinance—and counter with viable solutions—the better. Even if a regulation doesn’t get removed from an ordinance, minor tweaks to the language at this stage can have a massive impact when it comes to ease of implementation.
5. Activate Your Base and Share Resources
Whether you’re part of a formal coalition or a growing Facebook group with aligned interests, the same adage applies: work smarter, not harder. Collect email addresses and engage allies whose interests are also at stake, like local businesses who rely on the economic impact of short-term rental guests. Present a clear call to action for vacation rental homeowners, vendors, and employees to show up at meetings, align on messaging (be specific!), and write to local officials or sign petitions to demonstrate support. There’s strength in numbers.
And remember, data is your objective friend. Look at what you can provide from your records, like tax revenue generated from short-term rentals. How do communities plan to replace those funds if short-term rentals are banned or regulated out of business? Externally, AirDNA and Key Data have helpful market-level data, while VRMA Advocate is a great resource for housing and economic impact studies. There are instances where municipalities have hit pause on the ordinance adoption process because they are presented with compelling data and, as a result, understand that more work is needed to fully grasp the issues at hand.
With livelihoods at stake, we need to hold the city accountable and request they do the research to see if existing regulations are being enforced. Many situations can be resolved with better enforcement of existing regulations, rather than the hasty adoption of new, overreaching restrictions.
6. Stay Engaged
Whether a vote goes in our favor or against short-term rental operators, stay engaged. Local advocacy work is rarely done. Ordinances and ballot measures, even if voted down initially, can be reintroduced in the not-too-distant future, or new, stricter revisions can be proposed shortly after an ordinance has already passed. So, keep in contact with your local officials and keep your coalition active because, if and when another threatening proposal arises in your market, it’s best to get involved early.
Adam Frank is the senior regulatory & compliance counsel at Vacasa and is part of the company’s public affairs team, also serving on VRMA’s Collaborative Committee. To connect with Adam and the rest of Vacasa’s Public Affairs team, email email@example.com.