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Knoxville holds a workshop to tighten restrictions on short-term rentals

A very small portion of Knoxville's housing is used for short-term rentals. As few as 0.2% of properties caused the city council workshop.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn — Short-term rentals make up an exceptionally low portion of Knoxville's homes. They only account for 0.2% of home units, according to a study by the Knoxville Area Association of Realtors (KAAR). That is approximately 2 out of every 1,000 homes. Yet, these rentals are stirring up a big discussion.

On Thursday, Charles Thomas called a workshop for the city council to learn about the market and policies surrounding short-term rentals. The current ordinance for short-term rentals was established in 2018. 

A short-term rental is a housing unit that is rented for 30 days or less. Often, these units are located and rented through websites like Airbnb, Craigslist, VRBO, Plum Guide or others.

In the city of Knoxville, short-term rental property owners are required to obtain a permit to operate the property. However, research suggests some of those rentals are falling through the cracks.

In November, KAAR found approximately 618 short-term rental listings in Knoxville. 

"It boosts tourism, a lot of people want to stay in a home rather than a hotel room when they're visiting," said Hancen Sale with Knoxville Area Association of Realtors.

However, the city said they only have about 447 operating permits.

In the workshop, the city said it does make efforts to locate these rogue properties and get them permitted. However, the process of doing so is not aggressive. They send letters and hope the property-owners report to them.

Short-term rental properties in Knoxville tend to skew to be more expensive, luxury-style housing. This makes the short-term rental average around $119 per night, according to KAAR research. Research also shows these rental units are booked on average for 16.5 nights and are occupied 53% of the time.

The City Council discussed tightening permit restrictions on how these rental homes are operating.

"447 permits and not a single one has been revoked in the past four years," said Councilman Charles Thomas, during the workshop. "We have to do something and look really hard at enforcing these ordinances ... The enforcement is not working as it should."

Several council members said they're concerned that problem rentals are flying under the radar. 

Right now, the city said neighbors with complaints about nearby short-term rental properties can contact the hotline at 865-337-8275. However, since the hotline's inception in 2018, it's received very few calls. So far in 2022, only two people have called it. 

It begged the question from the panel — do residents know this hotline exists?

More often than not, neighbors complain about noise, parties, and home conditions to the Knoxville Police Department. 

"I'm thinking about cross-referencing 911 calls because if we're not doing that, I don't see how we're going to identify violations. Except through the complaint process, my folks are calling the actual number provided," said Councilwoman Amelia Parker.

Thursday's workshop revealed the city is not currently in communication with KPD to identify those complaints and follow through with warnings or citations.

The workshop gave council members lots to think about in terms of short-term rental properties moving forward.

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