Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Just Give Me The Facts!

I am working with a small city where the city council wants to "tighten up" their vacation rental laws to deal with "all of the problems" caused by vacation rentals.   We did a Public Information Request for records of "all the problems" that were actually reported to the city over an 18 month period..

We are still going through the data that the city eventually provided us, but some stunning facts stand out even at this stage of review:
  1. 67% of all the problems reported over an 18 month period had to do with vehicles and parking. 
  2. 18% of the remaining problems are trash related.  In many cases, pictures submitted about the complaint  show that garbage cans were too full and some items fell on the ground next to the garbage cans.
  3. Less than 5% were landscaping violations.  There was a dead bush in the yard, or too much bark dust was used on the property.
  4. The remaining 10% of violations covered a wide range of problems:  noise, improperly placed signs,  drinking, and everything else that someone might complain about.  Most of these were minor issues, and the wild noisey parties, the unsafe buildings, and all of the other horrors that you hear about from those who don't like vacation rentals in their communities, did not make up a significant number of the documented complaints.
Vacation rental laws often include special requirements of VR owners and guests, setting up situations where permits can be lost and people can get hefty fines for doing things that the resident next door to the vacation rental can do with no penalty at all.  In such cases, one could argue that the vacation rental law created the violation.

For example, in this city VR owners are often written up because their guest parks on the street in legal parking areas directly in front of the home they were renting, even though anyone else in the world could legally park in such areas.  A large number of violations of all types in this city resulted from VR guests parking on the street or doing other things that were perfectly legal for a someone to do if they were not a VR guest.

One has to wonder if a reasonable general public nuisance Ordinance concerning parking, trash and landscaping that applied to all people in the city might be more effective and fairer than an ordinance full of special rules for vacation rentals that allows the rest of the city to continue the apparently offending behaviours.

The community has about 340 registered vacation rentals, and had about 346 reported problems over an 18 month period.  Thus, one could say that under the laws of this one community, chances are that each vacation rental will have one violation per 18 month period, and chances are that the violation will be related to special  vehicle, trash, or landscaping regulations that the rest of the city doesn't have to worry about.

There clearly are some legitimate problems caused by vacation rentals, and there are some incidents in the city's records that were difficult to read about.  Depending on your level of tolerance, I would estimate the 3 to 5% of the complaints were about obnoxious or illegal behavior on the part of VR guests.  At 5% that means that there was about one such incident a month across all 340 homes.  I wonder how that compares to similar incidents among the general population in this city.
  • One has to wonder why city leaders think that stricter laws are needed in this community, based on the city's own records of what the problems are.
  • One has to wonder how many of the violations are the result of imposing special restrictions on VR owners and guests.
  • One has to wonder why the city has put so much effort into controlling parking, garbage and landscaping at vacation rentals, when a similar effort is not made to control these things for others.
  • One has to wonder if the city appreciates the tourists that come to visit them each year, or considers them to be a bother.
  • One has to wonder if the city appreciates the efforts of vacation rental owners to bring tourists to their city.
The above situation is common in communities where city leaders and certain groups of residents don't like having vacation rentals.  Documenting actual problems that do occur with vacation rentals is the best way to help craft laws that address real issues, and helps a lot when overly restrictive laws are being considered.

Doug Coates

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