Arguments over Airbnb and VRBO cause Davis a stir

DAVIS, W.Va. – Davis, West Virginia is known for its growing outdoor tourism, but a problem associated with the tourism industry has caused city council meetings to run hours after their scheduled hours. normal: short-term rentals.

The small town has just 674 residents and, according to Mayor Al Tomson, tourists can boost the population to around 10,000 on weekends. The mayor said tourism to this area has exploded in recent years due to the COVID pandemic, and as a result people from out of town have started buying second homes in Davis.

Citizens of Davis gather for city council meeting on February 9

“By doing that, they’re saying, well, we’re not going to go there all the time, so why don’t we go ahead and do Airbnb and VRBO or short-term rent so it covers our mortgage, and then we can go on weekends whenever we want,” Tomson explained.

The change has raised concerns among residents who argue that the increase in short-term housing has created problems for employees finding affordable housing to rent. They also cited noise complaints and a lack of regulation as concerns. The city decided to impose a moratorium on commercial short-term rental licenses last August due to concerns. The moratorium was due to end last January, but was extended at the last city council until the end of June. Tomson says the reason behind the moratorium is to put a pause on creating more short-term rentals while the city comes up with solutions.

“What we’re saying is we’re trying to find a balance. That’s what Davis is trying to do. A balance of community and business short term rentals coexisting. We’re also looking at a comprehensive plan that will help us establish zoning,” Tomson explained, “We want short-term rentals to focus on commercial areas in Davis so you can be next to a store or business. a restaurant, but you’re not in a residential community.

Long term affordable housing

The main concern of citizens seems to be accessibility to long-term housing, especially for low-income earners. Davis resident Lauren Paslawksy said she had trouble finding a place to rent and lived in a house that had mold issues for a while before another location came along. open.

“It’s tough. If you wanted to move tomorrow to another long-term house, it’s hard to find. It’s an area where you really have to know someone to get what you’re looking for here, or look when something opens,” Paslawsky said.

On the other hand, some owners of short-term rentals argue that the problem lies with vacant homes in town. The US Census Bureau estimates that there are 454 homes in Davis and 145 of them are vacant. At the city council meeting, Tompson said there were 27 short-term rentals in the city and three more were waiting to be licensed.

Cindy Robeson owns Stumptown Beers, which operated both short-term and long-term rental property. She said she even struggled to find a place to rent for her son five or six years ago, and that’s how she started her long-term rental business. Her son recently moved out of renting after buying his own home in Davis, but finding a place to stay was still difficult.

“He wanted to be here, grow up here and start a family here, and it was hard for him to buy a house because all these other people kept buying houses,” Robeson explained. he left our long term rental, then we had the dilemma of, do we have to keep a long term rental or can we Airbnb? Financially, it’s more lucrative for Airbnb, but that’s not where we were with this one.

Robeson ultimately decided to keep the house as a long-term rental.

“We don’t make that much money, but it’s the right thing we’re doing for this town and helping to provide housing because all the workers who come in are struggling to find space to rent for a year or six. month. “Robeson said.

The culture of the city

Davis, WV has a population of less than 700 people.

The other concern of citizens of Davis is that the town might lose some of its charm or sense of community when it attracts more tourists. Specifically, citizens expressed concern about noise and suggested that short-term rentals be subject to some type of inspection.

“Because today you might have a neighbor, you might have a friend who lives across the street. Maybe you have a family that lives a block away. But when short-term rentals start to invade these homes, you now have a revolving door of visitors staying in these homes,” Tomson explained.

Owners of short-term rentals are concerned about the nature of the annual inspection offered, as homes in Davis are generally older. Tomson said he recognizes that many homes in Davis are 100 years old or older, and any inspections of short-term rentals would only be basic safety items “that almost everyone can agree on.” However, owners of short-term rentals say services like Airbnb fix most of these issues on their own, as the website allows both renter and owner to be rated and rated.

“I think most people do their best. They want people to come back. They want that income to come in, so they’ll want to deal with it properly. So I think those inspections are a bit heavy handed,” Robeson said.

Since the person renting the Airbnb or VRBO is also under review, owners of short-term rentals say they are more likely to adopt their best behavior, so they can continue to rent with the service. Robeson said she also hasn’t heard of any complaints about noise being a major problem in the city.

“I mean, there is [local] people on my street who play a lot of music sometimes. It’s like that. I don’t see this complaint too much, and I don’t see it [myself] too much,” Robeson said.

The Balancing Act

Davis and Thomas business owners said short-term rentals brought in a lot of revenue when tourists were within walking distance of their storefronts. The only other alternatives are state park resorts and short term rentals which all require a drive to get to businesses. It seems most agree that short-term rentals have their place in Davis and that balance here is key.

Cindy Robeson owns Stumptown Ales.

“I don’t think the city means ill will or harm to any of these owners, but I think all of these secondary owners also need to understand where the city is coming from,” Robeson said, “Because this city was here long before tourism was the main focus, and that’s part of the problem for a lot of people who have been here for generations and their whole lives, they see things differently too, but they also have to understand that the city is going forward and that tourism pays a lot of the bills here now and supports a lot of these businesses.

Additionally, what Davis chooses to do here could impact the rest of the state, which could face similar issues as the state further embraces tourism. Tompson said he has already received many calls from other communities in West Virginia asking about Davis’ solutions to these types of issues because they had similar concerns.

“We’re leading the way for everyone behind us,” Tomson said.

Ultimately, Tomson said he was confident the city would come to a conclusion together through open dialogue and insisted that these are good issues to have because although an increase in tourism will accompanies some problems, the benefits far outweigh the new challenges.

“We believe there should be a balance between nothing and everything [in terms of short-term rental restrictions] and finding where that sweet spot exists, and that’s what we’re working toward, and that’s why we continue to listen to people,” Thomson said.

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