VOL. 131 | NO. 210 | Thursday, October 20, 2016
Airbnb Regulations Stripped of ‘Red Tape’
By Bill Dries
For several weeks, the coming of a city ordinance regulating Airbnbs looked like the model of how to achieve political compromise and consensus with the City Council brokering the process.
During the six-week process council member Edmund Ford Jr. worked with the hotel-motel industry and the short-term rental alliance to find common points and then worked through differences with them. Council member Berlin Boyd reviewed the provisions in his council committee as a neutral party both sides could go to as well.
But as the ordinance was on its way to a third and final vote Tuesday, Oct. 18, the council decided there was too much red tape and took out the city permitting process.
Council chairman Kemp Conrad said the permits were unnecessary and those renting out rooms or homes on a short-term basis could collect an occupancy tax and a bed fee for the city and essentially run the process themselves.
“I definitely believe there should be an even playing field,” he said. “What I object to is all of the red tape we are asking people to jump through. We are moving into a new economy. It’s the share economy.”
Conrad said that instead of filing a formal complaint with the city, Airbnb users who have a bad experience can post the complaint online.
“You are going to give them a bad review for everyone to see,” said Conrad, who has used the social media based system. “It’s a self-governing kind of eco-system.”
Boyd agreed with Conrad about bureaucracy and red tape to a point.
“I agree that some of it is a lot of red tape, however we definitely need some of it in place,” he said, before ultimately accepting the amendment.
Boyd didn’t want to lose what he considered the essential agreement.
“Anytime you have two entities who are willing to come together and say, ‘We want to pay taxes. We want to pay fees,’ I would really love them to participate,” Boyd said. “I don’t want to put some time in this where two weeks pass and we give people enough time to say ‘I don’t want to pay my fair share.’”
The fees and taxes go to promote tourism and Airbnbs specifically and pay for convention center renovations.
The Memphis ordinance was based on one recently passed in Nashville with Boyd saying the Tennessee Legislature is likely to leave regulation of Airbnbs to local legislative bodies.
“But if Memphis does it, they might come back and say we are going to regulate that,” he said.
Conrad said Nashville has a more dynamic Airbnb community than Memphis, which has about 306 rooms for rent through the system as of Jan. 1.
The council approved the ordinance on third reading without the permitting process and will work on fine-tuning the surviving provisions before the minutes of Tuesday’s meeting are approved at the Nov. 1 council session.
In other action Tuesday, the council gave final approval to an ordinance that specifically bans panhandling on median strips, intersections and entrance and exit ramps.
Council member Philip Spinosa, the sponsor, said the measure is “about public safety and protecting our citizens and keeping them and panhandlers out of harm’s way.”
Several citizens criticized the measure as unenforceable and unnecessary.
The council also approved up to $25,000 in city funds for the printing and mailing of material that will explain the city charter change referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot. The item changes in lieu of tax payments made by Memphis Light Gas and Water Division to the tune of $5 million more for the city of Memphis. The payments and their amount has been a source of conflict between the city and county governments over several years.
In planning and development items, council members delayed for two weeks a vote on a car lot on East Holmes Road near Millbranch at the site of the old Southern Security Credit Union.
The council approved an amendment to the Callis Cut-Off planned development to allow multi-family development instead of the single family construction the original planned development had called for.
The amendment drew opposition from some homeowners in the nearby Roseleigh subdivision.
Roseleigh Neighborhood Association president Jean Ray Bowers said she and 167 of her neighbors who signed a petition object to apartments because it will draw renters to the area.
“If you put people that are rental, that have no ownership … I have problems with that,” she said comparing the apartments renting at $1,100 a month to federally subsidized apartment in the Tulane Apartments in Whitehaven owned by Global Ministries Foundation.
Council member Janis Fullilove disagreed.
“Comparing Callis Creek and Tulane is like comparing pig feet to a t-bone steak,” she told Bowers.
And the council approved Tuesday an economic impact plan for the University Neighborhood District bordering the University of Memphis that sets in motion a tax increment financing district to use increased property tax revenue from development to pay for public infrastructure in the area.