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Patrick Taylor – Highlands Mayor

In my report at last Thursday’s Highlands Town Board Meeting, I requested that the land use committee and staff review the issue of short term vacation rentals, commonly referred to as VRBOs [Vacation Rentals By Owner]. With the emergence of the internet’s “sharing economy,” these kinds of rentals have significantly increased here and across the country.

Now I know some may say, “here we go again, the mayor and town is interfering with the free market.”  Others will say, “it’s about time that the mayor and town pulled their heads out of the sand and addressed this issue.” There are both sides to this issue.  

Let me be clear, while I think some rules and regulations could be applied to short term rentals, I don’t want to eliminate the vacation rental business that has been a part of our community for decades.

On the other hand, I just read an article on short term vacation rentals in Southern City, a publication of the North Carolina League of Municipalities.  The article outlined the issues and identified some regulations already adopted by several North Carolina communities.  Even before this article, I had asked our planner, Michael Mathis, to research what other cities were doing in regard to VRBOs.  Michael found that communities across the nation have adopted VRBO ordinances.

I had also watched a video of a North Carolina House committee meeting that was reviewing a proposed VRBO bill. Our representative, Kevin Corbin, chaired the committee. Both sides of the issue were discussed, i.e. individual property rights versus potential disruptions to residential neighborhoods that also relate to property rights.

Adoption of local regulation is driven in part by a concern that the proliferation of VRBOs in neighborhoods transform these residential zones into de facto hotel and motel districts.  The overcrowding of homes, increased parking, noise and introducing activities in neighborhoods that are normally reserved for business districts are all concerns for homeowners in R1 and R2 areas.  

To be fair, I live next to a home that is used as a VRBO. It is operated quietly and in good order. On the other hand, I have received feedback about VRBOs situations that fall just short of operating like a fraternity, “animal house,” with over crowding, jammed parking, excessive noise and disruptive behavior.  Again, I do not want to eliminate VRBOs, but we should consider regulations that keep these VRBOs in line with the character of our neighborhoods.

Towns like Nags Head and Cornelius have adopted regulations requiring  registration VRBOs with the town.  Most ordinances require a local contact person in case of a problem with the rental.  Many communities limit the number of adults in a VRBO based on the size of the house or number of bedrooms.  Other regulations center around parking and fire safety concerns. 

I have asked for this board review because I continue to receive concerns from neighborhood  residents.  If we adopt an ordinance, it needs to be in place prior to the state legislature taking action in the coming months. 

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