GOP lawmaker who operates Airbnb introduces legislation to prevent suburbs from banning them

Seven Hills places ban on short-term rentals like Airbnb
Posted at 6:34 PM, May 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-10 18:51:11-04

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Proposed legislation that would prohibit local governments in Ohio from regulating or restricting short-term rental properties will be heading to the House floor for a full vote.

House Bill 563 was voted out of the State and Local Government Committee Tuesday morning. The bill, co-sponsored by Reps. Sarah Fowler Arthur, a Republican from Ashtabula, and Ron Ferguson, a Republican from Wintersville, would limit the powers of a county, township or municipal corporation in regulating the number, duration or frequency of rental periods for short-term rental properties.

Short-term rentals have become big business for some people and a big nuisance for some of their neighbors. Ohio cities then started to regulate them.

Currently, local governments, like the city of Pepper Pike, are able to determine if they want Airbnb, VRBO or other rental options available.

"Home rule is a very important principle here in Ohio, where communities have the authority to regulate what goes on within their community," Richard Bain, mayor of Pepper Pike, said.

Pepper Pike is described as an "affluent eastern suburb of the Greater Cleveland area," where the median value of owner-occupied housing units from 2016 to 2020 was $443,000, according to U.S. Census data.

"What the House bill would do is strip away the knowledge and ability to appropriately regulate the rental of these properties in our communities," the mayor said.

Bain is also the president of the Cuyahoga County Mayors and City Managers Association, which he said represents nearly 60 communities of about 1.3 million people.

The mayor believes local governments need to have a say since they know their community best. However, Tony Long with the Ohio Chamber of Commerce said property owners should be able to do what's best for them.

Long is the director of tax and economic policy for the Chamber, citing his knowledge that this bill could help with economic growth.

"We don't want some areas of the state being barred from having an economic activity that others enjoy," Long said.

Right now, long-term and short-term rentals are regulated differently throughout the state. Ferguson said it would uniform the regulations, so both are evaluated the same.

"I think there are a growing number of folks that see this as a way to supplement their income," Long said. "That will really kind of boost the economy."

Bain and dozens of other mayors of suburbs want the choice of having the growth or not, since they believe the cons outweigh the pros.

The most recent example he gave for the "free for all" was Cleveland's NBA All-Star Weekend or the Republican National Convention in 2016.

"There were communities in this region that suddenly had two, three, four hundred people suddenly appear in a neighborhood," he said. "The residents in that neighborhood were reasonably very upset and apprehensive about that because — it was just so much, it was so overwhelming."

During the All-Star Weekend, News 5 checked websites like Airbnb and VRBO. From places like Ohio City to Tremont, to even Lakewood, the prices ranged from $250 a night to $2,000 a night.

RELATED: Clevelanders cashing in by renting out their homes on sites like Airbnb for All-Star week

"It creates traffic issues, noise issues, light issues at three, four in the morning — Just people are just coming and departing, you know, a residence," the mayor said. "There are some Airbnbs that basically become party centers."

This kind of activity can be documented and dealt with as needed, Long said.

"It should really be up to the property owner if it's being used in a lawful manner and it's not harming the safety and well-being of the community to use that property as they see fit," the lobbyist said.

The bill does have some exceptions, with one of them being that state and local governments can do what they want under the law as long as they enforce both types of rentals the same way.

"This is to prevent two sets of regulations which differ between the two," Ferguson said.

The bill specifies that it does not prohibit local government from enacting regulations in which there is the need to protect public health, safety and welfare related to fire and building safety, property maintenance, sanitation, traffic control, hazardous waste, or noise. As well as to limit or prohibit the use of the property to house sex offenders, make or sell alcohol or drugs, operate an "adult entertainment" establishment, produce pornography or maintain a public nuisance.

A News 5 viewer reached out to share that Fowler Arthur actually owns at least one Airbnb.

"My husband and I have an Airbnb in Geneva-on-the-Lake and we were able to work with the city council to establish that that was really no issue," Fowler Arthur confirmed, following the committee hearing.

It was because of the national interest in renting out homes, she continued, that she and Ferguson introduced the bill.

The viewer raised a question about the legality of her part in the bill's creation.

When asked if there is an ethics concern with proposing a bill that would benefit herself, she said no.

"We did look into that in advance and there was no ethics issues raised by our legal counsel," the Republican said. "So, I think it kind of helps give us some perspective."

The bill is not going to "directly benefit" her because she said she wasn't prohibited from starting hers.

Bain said he wants state legislators to stop their oversight over smaller municipalities, citing that this is just one "example" of the removal of city rights.

"It's not any effort to ban Airbnbs by municipalities or villages — it's to regulate them as is appropriate for their city, their village," Bain said. "Some places have areas or neighborhoods where they do want to promote Airbnb, so it could be good for that local economy. But it's up to that particular community to make that decision, not to have it dictated to them by Columbus."

The bill could be voted on in the House shortly, and if passed, it would be heard in the Senate in the next few weeks.

Follow WEWS statehouse reporter Morgan Trau on Twitter and Facebook.

Jake Zuckerman contributed to this report.