An ordinance banning short-term rentals in Sunset Hills was the subject of public debate and comment at the June 14 Board of Aldermen meeting.
The ordinance was introduced in May by Mayor Pat Fribis, who said a home in his neighborhood was listed on Airbnb. The ordinance prohibits rentals of less than 30 days in residential areas.
The family that owns the house in question, Elizabeth and Ben Virtue, spoke during public comments at the June meeting to give their “side of the story”.
Elizabeth said she wasn’t sure what the problem was with the listing, pointing to misunderstandings about the cars and the banners on the letterbox. She said she never heard of a complaint about the listing until she received a cease and desist from the city.
Ben reiterated that the city should have handled the matter in a different way, rather than through letters and lawyers.
“This is the fastest I’ve seen the city government act on an issue that has no documented effect on anyone in the city,” he said. “The city in our eyes has not been transparent with us as they continue to bully us and send us letters from the lawyer.”
Ben said the listing had been removed from future rentals, but he asked that those already booked through October be allowed to end.
The city originally issued the cease and desist letter using the term “tourist homes” in city code. These houses are prohibited, although the code does not include a definition of the term, mentioning only bed and breakfasts on the same line. Virtue attorney Bryan Cavanaugh said it was not appropriate for the city to rely on that indefinite term to order a cease and desist.
The main discussion among board members centered on whether the city’s case was strong enough at this time and whether Virtues should be allowed to complete rentals already scheduled through October. . The consensus was that Airbnbs will not be allowed to move forward, although a new order may need to be drafted for clarity.
Alderman of Ward 2 Casey Wong and Alderman of Ward 3 Randy Epperson noted that the city’s current code is in a “grey area,” so Virtues should be allowed to complete their tenancies while the council deliberates on an order.
“The city can maintain whatever position it wants, but when you really think about it, when you look at the laws, it’s no more a home occupation than a long-term rental…the city is in a gray area,” Wong said. .
Alderman for Ward 1 Ann McMunn agreed with the “grey area” point, citing that the city would not write a new ordinance if there was anything in the law that prohibited it.
The council voted 8-0 to file the order and allow the Virtues to complete rentals already booked through October.