A plan to regulate short-term or Airbnb-type rentals in the city is back for discussion Tuesday night by the Knoxville City Council.
Council members on Aug. 29 asked the Metropolitan Planning Commission to look at public and council concerns about a proposed ordinance and offer feedback. City officials have debated for months how to treat in-home rentals. The city also has held several public workshops.
MPC staff responded to numerous points raised by council members and the public. But planners are recommending no major changes to the ordinance as written.
They recommend against one idea that's been raised -- creating or mapping a short-term rental district where such properties would be allowed.
"Our proposed ordinance will give us the tools we need to address an existing and growing global phenomenon in a way that protects our neighborhoods, respects property rights and ensures that all appropriate fees and taxes are paid by those operating (short-term rentals)," Bill Lyons, chief policy officer in the administration, wrote in an Oct. 9 email to MPC commissioners.
The MPC has recommended adopting the proposal 11-2. MPC staff also is recommending ordinance approval.
The ordinance is on Tuesday night's agenda for first reading. It will go through two readings before being potentially adopted.
Property owners already offer short-term rentals throughout the city. Currently there's no permitting process.
Some council members, neighborhood groups and homes associations want the city to ban Airbnb-type rentals in areas zoned for R-1 and R-1E. The proposed plan, however, does not prohibit home rentals in specific zoning locations.
"Legitimizing short term rentals will provide homeowners in single family residential neighborhoods the opportunity to engage in the business of renting rooms for profit with the resulting potential for disruption of those amenities that attract families to residential neighborhoods e.g. increased traffic flow, on-street parking, late-night activities and interaction with transients who have no concern for the integrity of the neighborhood," Richard and Mary Stair of Knoxville wrote in a letter to the MPC last month.
As proposed, the city would create a permitting system for anyone who wanted to open their home or related property to short-term guests. The ordinance would require owners to live primarily in the residences from which they offered rooms.
Separate restrictions would apply to property owners in non-residential districts who don't live on-site.
Besides occupancy, the ordinance requires the would-be Airbnb operator to go through an application process. They would have to provide safety equipment to protect against threats such as fire. They also would have to provide the city with a contact person in case of emergency.
The permit would cost $70 in the first year and $50 for each annual renewal. Generally speaking, the permit couldn't be transferred to anyone else, and it would be terminated if the owner ever transferred the property to someone else.
Right now it's estimated there are now some 8,000 "guest stays" a year in Knoxville, according to Jesse Mayshark, the city's senior director of communications and government relations.
"We understand that there are fears about the impact of short-term rentals, especially from people who are not familiar with the (short-term rental) model and marketplace," Mayshark wrote in a note to MPC commissioners last month. "But those fears have not been in any way borne out by several years of actual experience, with thousands of people staying in hundreds of homes across Knoxville.
"Moreover, the experience of other cities tells us clearly that the more restrictive a short-term rental ordinance is, the harder it is to enforce and the larger the underground economy it fuels."