Columbia residents who operate short-term rentals on Airbnb, Vrbo or similar vacation rental websites have new regulations to follow after they were approved by the Columbia City Council on Monday.
Changes to the city’s Unified Development Code include updating of definitions, permitted uses and use-specific standards, said community development director Tim Teddy. Changes to business license, rental conservation and taxation codes in relation to short-term rentals also are needed.
The majority of code changes are to “use specific standards, which establish how (short-term rentals) may be operated. What are the conditions of their use,” Teddy said.
So, the UDC changes approved Monday will not go into effect until June 1. Currently unregulated short-term rental operators also will have a one-year grace period in which to get their properties up to the short-term rental code, meaning they have 481 days in which to complete this task, based on Monday’s approval by the council.
Public comments over a 90-minute period Monday were mixed.
Favorable comments noted regulations are a way to hopefully rein in increasing housing costs and make more housing available for purchase or even longer-term rental by permanent residents.
Those against regulations as written were concerned over limiting STR licenses to one person or entity; that tiers are too limiting for operators who may provide rentals at least 180 days per year (tiers did have up to 120 day limits in the original draft ordinance); and that regulations are too confusing for currently unregulated operators.
There also were commenters curious about investor-owned properties from both in- and out-of-state owners.
The underlying principal of the 30 and 120 day limits was once a short-term rental is occupied more than a third of the year, it then is a commercial operation and not a residence and that planning and zoning was trying to find a “delicate balance,” said Patrick Zenner, city development services manager.
While regulations are imperfect, they are needed, said Mayor Barbara Buffaloe requesting a six-month implementation report.
That 120-day limit was modified to 210 days for a section of Tier 2 classified rentals, in a 4-2 council-approved amendment made by Buffaloe. A similar proposal from Ward 5 Don Waterman had failed to gain council support. Ward 3 and Ward 4 council members Roy Lovelady and Nick Foster, respectively, voted against the amendment. Ward 6 member Betsy Peters was recused due to her operating a short-term rental.
Tier 1 remained at 30 days. Other regulations remain in place as written. The ordinance as amended was supported by all council members except Waterman and Peters again was recused.
“We know it’s not perfect and it’s a very complicated system and we need to make a decision and get this going to start measuring and make a difference,” Buffaloe said.
This was the second time the council has gone through the process of establishing regulations. Originally proposed in November 2017, the regulations were withdrawn by December 2020. Work was reinvigorated June 2021, leading to Monday’s vote.
There are 13 ways in which a person could operate a short-term rental, Teddy said, depending on if they do or do not already have an operator license, and whether the rental is operated out of a person’s primary residence or if they have a second property they want to use as a short-term rental space.
Charles Dunlap covers local government, community stories and other general subjects for the Tribune. You can reach him at [email protected] or @CD_CDT on Twitter. Subscribe to support vital local journalism.