An ordinance banning short-term rentals in Sunset Hills was the subject of debate and public comment at the June 14 Board of Aldermen meeting.
The ordinance was introduced in May by Mayor Pat Fribis, who said a house in her neighborhood was listed on Airbnb. The ordinance bans rentals shorter than 30 days within residential areas.
The family who owns the home in question, Elizabeth and Ben Virtue, spoke during public comment at the June meeting to give their “side of the story.”
Elizabeth said she wasn’t sure what the issue with the listing was, pointing out misunderstandings about cars and streamers on the mailbox. She said she never heard a complaint about the listing until receiving a cease and desist from the city.
Ben reiterated the point that the city should have handled the issue in a different way, versus through letters and attorneys.
“This is the fastest I’ve seen city government move on any 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 attorney.”
Ben said the listing has been removed from future rentals, but he requested the already booked ones through October be allowed to finish.
The city originally issued the cease and desist letter using the term “tourist homes” within city code. These homes are banned, although the code does not feature a definition of the term, only mentioning bed and breakfasts on the same line. The Virtue’s attorney, Bryan Cavanaugh, said it isn’t appropriate for the city to rely on that undefined term to order a cease and desist.
The main discussion between board members focused on if the city’s argument was strong enough for now, and if the Virtues should be allowed to finish already scheduled rentals through October. The consensus was that Airbnbs will not be allowed going forward, although a new ordinance may need to be drafted for clarity.
Ward 2 Alderman Casey Wong and Ward 3 Alderman Randy Epperson made the point that the city’s current code sits in a “gray area,” so the Virtues should be allowed to finish up their rentals while the board deliberates on an ordinance.
“The city can maintain whatever position it wants, but when you actually think about it, when you look at the laws, it’s not a home occupation anymore than a long-term rental is … the city is in a gray area,” Wong said.
Ward 1 Alderman Ann McMunn agreed with the “gray area” point, citing the fact that the city wouldn’t be drafting a new ordinance if there were something in the law that prohibited it.
The board voted 8-0 to table the ordinance and allow the Virtues to finish up the rentals already booked through October.