Airbnb owners, Florence city officials seek common ground

Airbnb owners, Florence city officials seek common ground

According to our news partners at the Times Daily, building department officials have determined 27 Airbnb or other transient short-term rental owners are in violation of the city’s zoning regulations for R-1 and R-2 single family residential zones.

Owners received a letter dated May 31 from building officials that read in part: "You are hereby notified that the use of this single-family dwelling, accessory structure and property as a Bed & Breakfast, transient short-term rental, rooming or boarding house must cease immediately."

The exception is if the property is located within a historical district and operated as a bed and breakfast, in which case the owners may apply for special exception from the board of zoning adjustment, which meets monthly.

The letter goes on to say that failure to comply will result in further legal action to insure compliance with zoning regulations. Any appeal by property owners should be filed within 30 days.

There is a meeting on the issue Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at the Florence-Lauderdale Tourism and Visitor Center. Airbnb owners and city officials will be in attendance.

Gary Williamson, the city's zoning administrator, said he's been contacted by several property owners, some whose properties are in the historic district and will qualify for special exception.

As for amending the zoning ordinance or creating other exceptions, Williamson said it is a city council decision, not the building department's.

While he said there haven't been a lot of complaints regarding Airbnb type properties, just a few complaints about traffic, noise and unknown people in neighborhoods, "we do have to address the zoning violations."

Jan Scofield, who owns two Airbnb rentals in Florence said she is proposing city officials use their discretion in the issuance of special permits for other complying owners, like herself, whose rentals are not in historic zones.

"We certainly want to comply with the city and we appreciate stringent rules," Scofield said. "Airbnb has strict rules in that they'll put you out if you don't follow the rules or get bad reviews."

Scofield said she and her husband didn't have to get the city's permission when they opened their properties as Airbnb's, "because these are considered rental properties."

Scofield said she and other Airbnb owners are great tourism ambassadors for the area.

"I also have brochures for our guests on all the area offers and it's just an opportunity to promote Florence and the Shoals area," she said. "Plus, 10 percent of every dollar we bring in goes to state lodging tax."

Corporate Airbnb is responsible for collecting lodging tax and paying the Alabama Department of Revenue, which in turn pays the individual counties.

Florence-Lauderdale Tourism's Operations Manager Alison Stanfield said Airbnb's produced $15,000 in lodging taxes in Lauderdale County last year and that amount is increasing as the trend continues to grow.

"We consider this significant because this is a trendy way to travel now and will only increase," Stanfield said. "We want to make sure these Airbnb owners are supported. The purpose of the meeting with city officials is to try and come up with a quick resolution to make it legal for them to operate in those zones."

Tuscaloosa and Nashville each have a special permit option for operating Airbnb’s, according to Stanfield who said she is aware of 80 Airbnb’s in Lauderdale County.

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