Airbnb: Short-term rentals promote tourism, but some create a stir

Airbnb, the online service offering travelers lower-cost options for short-term lodging and vacation rentals in destination cities and towns, including Milford, can be a vacationer's dream.

Here, for example, a three-bedroom beachfront cottage can be rented for $285 a night, or a private suite near Gulf Beach can be had for $94 a night through Airbnb.

Reviewers rave about the prices, the hospitality and the views from these Milford rentals.

But this relatively new travel phenomenon is also creating a bit of a stir in some areas — both in Milford and across the country. Some cities across the country have passed laws aimed at regulating Airbnb. While Milford hasn’t done that, City Hall has fielded complaints from some residents who say loud parties have taken place in at least one beachside home rented through Airbnb.

A member of the Wildemere Beach Association attended the June Board of Aldermen’s meeting to ask for a noise ordinance or something to help control loud partying at a Broadway home that has been renting through Airbnb. Luise Puzzo said the association filed a complaint after a recent tough weekend, when a family reportedly rented the home and then used it to host a high school graduation party for teenagers.

Puzzo said there was screaming, drinking, “a general nuisance.”

“Someone said it looked like a rock concert,” Puzzo said, adding, “You can’t put a hotel in the neighborhood and hope it’s going to work out.”

But city officials are not jumping too quickly at trying to regulate Airbnb here. For now, they are just monitoring the situation and at the same time appreciating the travel and tourism that Airbnb promotes in Milford.

Mayor Ben Blake said for now he’s working with residents to enforce regulations that already exist to address situations that may arise: nuisance ordinances and the like. The city doesn’t have a noise ordinance, although it seems almost every year someone requests one. And who knows, the mayor said, a noise ordinance is something that may be considered in the future.

Blake said many communities are keeping an eye on the “relatively new phenomenon,” in some cases because the hotel industry has complained about losing business.

But for now, “it’s nothing that we have to address,” the mayor said.

Economic Development Director Julie Nash is even more adamant about hoping to avoid regulations to control these short term rentals. She doesn’t believe in over-regulating, and she believes that if property owners are respectful and responsible, these short term rentals should work out, and bring visitors to Milford to spend money in the city’s shops and restaurants.

State Rep. Kim Rose said she hasn’t seen any moves to pass legislation at the state level, and believes it would be a local issue anyway.

“You can't really tell people what they can can't do with their property,” Rose said. “If someone owns a house they have every right to rent it out, I would think.”

Elsewhere in the country, political leaders are taking steps to control the new industry. According to the LA Times, in New York last fall, “Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed one of the nation’s most restrictive laws penalizing Airbnb hosts who do not abide by limits on how frequently they can rent out their properties.”

But the LA Times reported that state lawmakers in California have done nothing major either to crack down on Airbnb or make it easier for short-term rentals to operate.

“The lack of action is in sharp contrast to the scores of regulations passed in cities and states across the country, but also to the way California legislators have responded with fervor in tackling other issues surrounding the so-called sharing economy, including Uber and Lyft and the booming ride-hailing industry,” the news agency reported.  

In a May 2 letter to Mayor Blake, Andrew L. Kalloch of Airbnb welcomed regulations and offered to help craft rules that would promote what he called “home sharing.”

He also explained how the company benefits the city and how it tries to ensure positive outcomes for renters, homeowners and neighbors.

“Airbnb uses sophisticated technologies and behavioral analysis techniques to help prevent potentially troublesome hosts or guests from utilizing the platform in the first place,” Kalloch wrote in his letter. “For U.S. residents, Airbnb also runs host and guest information through several public databases to check if there are matches with certain felony convictions, sex offender registrations, or significant misdemeanors.”

Airbnb requires that guests provide a government ID, and it provides insurance to protect the hosts and the guests.

“Last year, we launched the Neighbors platform — a tool that allows people who may not even use Airbnb to report potential concerns directly to our staff for review,” Kalloch wrote. “We’ve already taken action in response to complaints about specific listings and we will continue to take appropriate action where there is a pattern of problematic behavior by hosts or guests.”

According to Airbnb, in the last year there were 45 active hosts in Milford with 52 rental listings.

“Sixty-three percent of Milford hosts are women and the average age of hosts is 51 (62% of hosts are over the age of 50), highlighting how many Airbnb hosts use home sharing as a way to age in place in the communities they love,” the letter states.

The typical Milford host earned $3,000 in income for sharing their home for fewer than three nights a month over the course of the year, and Airbnb says that shows that “the vast majority of Airbnb hosts use home sharing as a part-time source of supplemental income, not a full-time commercial operation.”