Companies like Airbnb have revolutionized the lodging industry as millions of people opt to rent out their own bedrooms, in-law suites, or entire houses to tourists and vacationers for some extra cash. But short-term vacation rentals continue to be a source of controversy, with heated opposition from established lodging businesses, neighboring property owners, and local governments attempting to regulate the ever-growing popular trend in today’s “sharing economy.”
The Madison Mayor and City Council is poised to wrestle with the issue once again.
As Madison Councilwoman Chris Hodges nears the end of her last term in office, she is making short-term vacation rentals one of her last battles before she vacates her seat at the end of the year.
During a city council work session on Friday, Sept. 3, Hodges asked the mayor and council to start a public dialogue about short-term vacation rentals and to reconsider the issue.
“I would like in my last few months to start that conversation to do something about this,” said Hodges. “I think people feel threatened by short-term rentals in the city, but I think we all rise with the tides and there are enough businesses here to do this.”
Hodges argued that short-term rentals would bring a new kind of tourist clientele to Madison, that would in turn bolster spending at local restaurants, shops, and attractions. The city would also be able to collect the hotel/motel tax off short-term rentals.
“I think we are missing some really good opportunities here,” said Hodges. “People are traveling differently. We are missing the opportunity to create a more rigorous tourist economy and to allow people with hard-to-maintain houses to make some extra money.”
Council members were open to the idea of revisiting the issue.
“I support starting this conversation,” said Councilman Eric Joyce. “There are a lot of good arguments on both sides...I think we need to start the conversation and let everyone who has a vested interest talk about it together.”
Councilman Ed Latham asked Hodges to prepare research on short-term rentals before the next city work session.
“I would like to review it before we start a discussion,” said Latham.
Hodges pointed to touristy cities, like Savannah and Charleston, that have incorporated Airbnbs and other short-term vacation rentals into the tourism economy.
“They have both embraced short-term rentals with the hotels and motels at the table to help write the legislation,” said Hodges. “There are reasons not to have it, but I think there is balance. If you can control it well enough, then you can have your cake and eat it too without it affecting our hotel/motel industry.”
The Madison Mayor and City Council will discuss the possibility of allowing short-term vacation rentals at the next work session on Friday, Oct. 1 at 8:30 a.m. The meeting will take place at the city’s meeting hall located at 160 North Main Street, Suite 400 in Madison.