AUGUSTA — At a recent Augusta City Council meeting, Council Member John Yingling posed the idea of limiting the number of Airbnbs in the city for a second time when a short-term rental ordinance was discussed.
Yingling approached council members with the suggestion for the first time in October of 2023. At the time, the total number of Airbnbs was estimated to be 18, according to Tourism Director Janet Hunt.
He posed the question of when it would be “appropriate” to discuss limiting the number of Airbnbs allowed in Augusta at one time. Yingling’s concern remains with residency in city limits, he said.
According to Hunt, the number of Airbnbs is now estimated to be 16. She noted there are other rentals in city limits that do not count as an Airbnb, due to the specific nature of the structures.
Yingling again suggested that council members put a limit on the number of Airbnbs allowed in the city. He used 36 as an example for the maximum number of facilities, or double the current amount of Airbnbs.
He predicted interest in Augusta to grow “exponentially.” Yingling noted that any number written to limit the number of Airbnbs could always change at a later time.
“I am very concerned because, suddenly, we’re not gonna see the basketball team coming in here (after winning a tournament) because there isn’t any place to live for a person to have a family anymore in Augusta. It’s hard enough to do that. I think we oughtta think about that (limiting the number of Airbnbs in Augusta),” Yingling remarked.
He continued, “I think we need some sort of an ordinance in this city to make sure that the habitat that we have, which is limited in our little town of Augusta because of river and mountains and everything else, we need to consider that.”
Mayor John Laycock responded to Yingling’s concerns by reminding him the city would need to hire a code enforcement officer to regulate something of that magnitude. He noted Augusta can not currently afford to fill that role.
Yingling also brought up some properties in city limits that are not being kept up and resulting in “green space.” According to Laycock, Airbnb in Augusta helps with properties being kept up.
“I agree with you, there is a lot of BnBs popping up, but the BnBs that I’ve seen popping up so far, they’ve turned some properties that were $40/50,000 a couple of years ago are now $150/200,000 properties,” Laycock said.
He added that some Airbnb owners are likely to lose interest in renting properties in the area because they are not profiting as much as they had originally expected.
Yingling responded to Laycock in saying the city can not rely on “hope” for properties to be fixed up and then bring profit to Augusta.
“Hope is not a method. You can’t hope that somebody is going to, you know, I mean, they fix up a property up and hope that they will have people come in on long-term which will allow employees to have employers that are living within the city,” he said.
Council Member Peggy Kelsch asked Thompson if they had ever looked into a contract with a code enforcement officer in another city or county. Thompson said there have been no options that would work out for Augusta.
“It’s really hard to get people that will do it on a case-by-case basis,” Thompson said. She explained the other alternative would be to hire someone full-time for the City of Augusta.
Thompson noted that it would require a lot of resources to hire someone full-time.
Council members continued to discuss Airbnb in the city, including the second reading of a short-term rental and Airbnb ordinance that regulates ownership and actions of property owners.
According to Thompson, the ordinance requires Airbnb owners to register their property with the city and pay a “small fee.” She added that properties need to be certified regarding safety measures and have a “local” representative who is capable of responding to emergency situations.
If owners do not comply with the ordinance, they could face a civil penalty, suspension of city services, or lose access to city promotions through social media, Thompson said.
She added that Hunt will be responsible for overseeing compliance and will “benefit” from funds collected for tourism.
“We’d be able to use these funds to help promote the city, it would go into tourism and promotion,” Yingling said. “And that’s what it would just be a revenue generator for that and she is gonna have some administration on this because she’s gonna have to send out the notices, contact them, and collect the fee.”
“It kind of makes sense though, because she’s in touch with them too. You know, she’s always on the internet promoting businesses,” Thompson said. “They come in, whenever there’s a new one that comes up, she will promote it briefly on Facebook. I mean, I think there’s a relationship there already, which is helpful.”
In further discussion of the ordinance, Thompson noted the fee in the ordinance was written to be $25 per Airbnb. Craig Miller suggested council raise the fee to a higher number due to the potential profit to be expected with each Airbnb.
Miller used an example of an Airbnb that makes $100 a night. He said it would not hurt the owners to pay more than $25. Yingling and Kelsch agreed with Miller and suggested the fee be raised to $100 from $25.
Yingling made the motion to approve the second reading of the short-term rental ordinance with the increase in fee. Kelsch seconded. The motion passed.