Council to Consider Zoning Change for Airbnb-style Rentals

By Peyton Gigante and Lauren Snyder

On Tuesday the Oxford Planning Commission approved a proposal for deregulating short-term rentals, such as those found at the popular vacation rental website Airbnb. The proposal now goes to City Council, which is scheduled to take it up in mid-October.

Community Development Director Sam Perry introduced the proposed change to city zoning rules. He said it would help the city to catch up with the new ways people provide and use short-term rentals.

Currently, in order for anyone to legally operate a short-term rental in Oxford, they are required to have a conditional use permit that takes about three months to obtain. This has been seen as an unnecessary burden, and is why the Planning Commission proposed the change.

The new amendment would allow people who are already operating Airbnbs and other short-term rentals to continue managing them without having to obtain a permit—unless they are doing it as a regular business.

“I think it would provide some clarity for people who have wanted to be in compliance but didn’t want to go with the full three-month process,” Perry said. “I think by modernizing the language in the zoning law, it accomplishes that by specifically addressing what people are already doing.”

As it pertains to Oxford, Perry believes this revision presents a good opportunity for people to talk to one another about issues that affect them as neighbors.

“This is a way for people to actually bring some unity and some common ground around an issue by understanding different needs,” Perry said.

People who operate Airbnbs do so for a variety of reasons. It can serve as a way to attain extra income, or it can simply be a way to provide lodging for visitors of Oxford.

 Short-term rental businesses such as Airbnb and HomeAway have brought the new “sharing economy” to lodging in Oxford—but without much regulation.

“Short term rentals are occurring in our community at a large scale because we’re a college town,” said Jessica Greene, director of Enjoy Oxford, the city’s visitors’ bureau. “There are some people who love it and there are some residents who don’t.”

Airbnb is an online marketplace that allows homeowners to rent out their properties or spare rooms to guests. Created in 2008, today it has more than 4 million listings worldwide.

Oxford and its immediate surroundings have 377 traditional hotel rooms spread among 10 hotels. Airbnb shows 59 listings in the Oxford area.

Greene said those listings supplement the traditional hotel accommodations.  

“When we have big visit weekends, we run out of hotels pretty quickly. Airbnb provides a way for people to stay in town and not have to travel so far,” she said.

Short-term rentals allow people to stay here in Oxford and encourage them to shop and dine in town, Greene said.

Short-term rentals bring in extra income for homeowners. Some renters do it as rarely as three times a year, while others rely more heavily on the extra money, using it to support their families or fund home improvements.

According to current Airbnb listings, Oxford visitors can pay as little as $64 a night to stay in a private room, or as much as $125 a night for an entire house.