The travel industry has come roaring back to life, and the subject of short-term rentals is on the agenda for thousands of city council meetings across the country. With the digital tools now available, local governments have never been better equipped to build stronger partnerships with short-term rental operators in their communities.
The latest data on short-term rentals (STRs) shows the rise in demand seen in 2021 will more than likely continue for the foreseeable future. For some local governments, this substantial increase in STRs has been top of mind, especially for those actively addressing community preservation and housing concerns. In response, some jurisdictions have proposed restricting STRs, citing community preservation, lack of housing, traffic congestion, and general safety concerns as their motivation.
Other local governments have sought to turn this increase into an opportunity to have a positive impact on the communities they serve, while also lifting the local economy and their own bottom line. These governments are working to enact ordinances that improve cooperation between owners and agencies, while safeguarding the quality of life their citizens have come to expect.
While there are no universal guidelines, industry leaders, including those in tech and community-building organizations, are working together with local governments to bridge the communication gap and identify best practices that serve all stakeholders. The most successful communities are the ones that give all stakeholders in the STR community a seat at the table.
Finding the Right Tools to Engage with the Community
Local governments adopt new technology to provide a better, more streamlined experience to citizens. Online solutions can facilitate improved communication with STR property owners and managers, and help local governments gain an accurate picture of STR booking data in their community, as well as simplify lodging tax collection. Now is the prime time to invest in tech solutions that offer a range of services, some of which are customizable by the agency.
Here are some benefits for local governments that digitize their STR system:
- Accurate data on the local STR ecosystem. While simple online searches might provide a rough estimate of the number of STRs in a jurisdiction, technology can be used to provide a much more accurate number that considers duplicate listings when an STR operator lists a place on multiple platforms. At times, the actual number versus the number of advertisements is vastly different. Gathering accurate information can alleviate some of the concerns and help the community get a clear picture of the situation.
- A streamlined registration system for communication with STR operators. Data shows that the majority of STR operators want to be in compliance with local rules and regulations and to be a positive presence within their community. Making it easy for STR operators to register a property within the jurisdiction allows for better communication and helps these citizens work with their government agency rather than feeling as if they are trying to avoid the watchful eye of their local government.
- A 24/7 hotline for local residents to report STR issues. More communities are taking additional steps to lessen the impact non-emergency STR complaints have on local resources. Not only does implementing a hotline help ensure communities don’t inundate police with calls to report concerns such as noise, parking, and trash, but it also gives citizens a direct line to those who can take action (when necessary). The use of noise-monitoring technology also works well in conjunction with hotline services.
Technology helps communities make data-driven decisions regarding best practices for all stakeholders. Accurate data provides the information required to set realistic rental limits on STRs, including things like the number of units or areas where renting is permitted. A registration system makes it easier to communicate with owners and to establish permitting and tax filing systems. A hotline can help you establish a clear workflow that citizens can follow when they have concerns.
Local Governments Rising to the Challenge
Here’s how some local governments are partnering with STR operators to find the best way forward:
- North Elba, New York – In 2020, North Elba, home to Lake Placid, implemented a law to curb the impact of STRs on the community. The town made it mandatory for anyone wanting to rent out their property to get a permit and start paying a bed tax, which is determined by the number of bedrooms being rented at the residence. North Elba started using technology to help monitor STRs, including keeping track of rental booking dates and handling complaints. The town also gave property owners access to an online portal where they can easily apply for their permits and provide a primary point of contact.
- Sedona, Arizona – As a popular tourist destination with more than 1,000 STRs in the area, Sedona recognized the need for technology. After finding and implementing a software solution, the community went on to provide residents with access to a 24/7 bilingual hotline, as well as an online form to submit complaints. And because they are able to collect emergency contact information in an online database, they can easily contact STR operators to resolve any issues.
- Oceanside, California – A coastal city in San Diego County, Oceanside experienced rapid growth in STRs in the 2010s. In June 2019, the city approved an ordinance designed to monitor STRs. Among the conditions laid out in the ordinance was the requirement for STR operators to register for a permit and pay an annual fee of $250. Recognizing they needed to improve compliance with the latest adoption of permitting, Oceanside issued a formal RFP and now uses technology for compliance, registration, Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) collection, and a 24/7 bilingual complaint hotline. The city reported a 93 percent compliance rate in 2021.
As you can see, now is the time for local governments and STR operators to start working more closely together. A partnership between STR owners and governments through an online data management tool is key to creating less stress for owners and more revenue for the community and ensuring high compliance with community guidelines that lead to a better experience for the neighboring properties of STRs. These tools in conjunction with stakeholder involvement show the importance of working together to protect communities, while also supporting a vibrant vacation rental industry that helps further local economic goals.
Erin Neer is the chief strategy officer for GovOS.