Short-term rentals have had a short history of controversy in Blount County after legislation passed by the Tennessee General Assembly in early 2018 allowed cities to regulate a new era of peer-to-peer hospitality services.
But just as the leading short-term rental company has announced significant tax revenues given back to the state in 2019, some cities in the area are still cautiously considering the best way to move forward.
Maryville still has a ban on short-term rentals, an ordinance voted into reality in November 2018, only about five months after Tennessee passed legislation allowing cities to regulate short-term rentals.
The Maryville City Council made it clear the ban was temporary but has not yet taken further action.
Maryville Public Services Director Angie Luckie said the ball is essentially in her court at this point but that it has not been a top priority for the city lately.
So where does that leave Maryville’s handful of local short-term rental hosts?
Mostly in limbo.
By Tennessee House Bill 1020, short-term rentals are defined as “a residential dwelling that is rented wholly or partially for a fee for a period of less than 30 continuous days.” This definition does not include hotels or bed-and-breakfast establishments.
Maryville Assistant City Manager Roger Campbell told The Daily Times in a spring 2018 interview that, among other things, the bill has the power to distinguish between owner- and non-owner-occupied rentals.
Luckie said this was the issue at the heart of the matter. Maryville residents are concerned about unregulated renting, parties and potential neighborhood mishaps.
But what about the owner-occupied rentals?
Maryville residents like Mark Radosevich and his wife, Susan, bought their Scenic Drive home last July with the intention of turning it into an Airbnb.
They are still in operation, consistently hosting guests almost every day of the week, but it has been difficult, especially in a city where operations like theirs are banned.
So, while the hospitality business thrives for the couple, so does a lively discussion between them and Maryville officials.
How do the Radoseviches operate despite the restrictions?
The ban went into effect in November 2018, and the couple already had been renting out their private-access basement apartment in their home since September.
But that didn’t seem to be enough time to satisfy the requirements of the ban.
“The city’s position is that we needed to be operating six months before the ban took effect in the same calendar year the ban became effective,” Mark Radosevich explained, adding that aside from those current stipulations, rules surrounding the situation are vague.
He said that, regardless of past confusion about whether or not he is actually allowed to operate in Maryville, the one-bedroom rental stays booked for most days of the week and business is not slowing down.
“The city was pretty patient, they didn’t force the issue. … We appreciated that,” Mark Radosevich said. But the couple has hired an attorney to navigate the issue.
“There’s no existing regulation, no permit requirement, no nothing relating to short term in the Maryville City Code before the ban. It wasn’t clear what we were supposed to do.”
Between where taxes from the couple are paid, who owns the property, who runs the actual Airbnb and how Maryville is researching the couple’s eligibility, the situation is far from simple.
But Maryville has plans to change that.
Making the rules
“We have prohibited (short-term rentals) so that we have time to work on getting a good ordinance in place,” Luckie said. “That’s what I’m working on right now.”
She said that if people are operating within city limits currently, they need to apply for a business license, show the city they pay taxes and prove they were operating before the ban.
Airbnb’s website shows only a small handful of operations within city limits, of which Radoseviches’ is one.
Luckie said the City Council has provided her with a checklist of what it would be looking for in regulations and also is considering approved zoning. “We’re looking at not allowing them in residential because we’ve had a lot of complaints.”
Residents have reached out to the city within the past year to find out if their neighbors were operating a rental illegally and the city has listened.
“We also want to make sure that there’s someone available locally 24/7,” Luckie said, adding this was pretty standard for a short-term rental. “We need to be able to contact you if somebody calls and says there’s a big party in your house, or if there’s a lot of cars parked outside and you can’t sleep.”
These are just some of the details the city is trying to understand and eventually regulate.
Meanwhile, Airbnb has said it is doing its part to help the state thrive.
“Airbnb … announced today the company delivered a combined $22.4 million in tax revenue to Tennessee in the first year of its statewide tax agreement, exceeding initial expectations,” the company said in a press release in April.
Maryville has a relatively limited set of hospitality options, but Luckie said working through technicalities and moving the city into the short-term rental era is not a top-tier priority right now.
“When we have something that’s a good-enough draft to bring it to work session, then that’s when it will happen,” she said.
The right way
For Susan Radosevich, having an Airbnb is more personal than it is technical.
Her home’s rental is in her name and she runs the business. She has multiple sclerosis and said that was the reason they started renting out a room in the first place.
“Prior to meeting Mark, it was hard to make ends meet,” she said, adding she has driven Uber and Lyft before as well.
Before she was married, Susan said she traveled the country and stayed in many short-term rentals. “They were fantastic. They were cheaper than a hotel. There was privacy. So I said when we were buying a house, ‘We should do this.’”
She said it would serve a dual purpose of giving her something to do with her time and a way to make a little extra money. “I’m not going to get rich doing it, but it helps me keep busy.”
Susan Radosevich said she has dealt with a stigma commonly associated with people on disability: laziness. “No, trust me,” she said. “I used to have a life. I used to be a workers comp insurance adjuster. I miss working, but my body does not agree with me.”
Keeping up the apartment on a day-to-day basis is perfectly within her wheelhouse, Susan Radosevich said. And she’s always trying to make it better for guests whom she hosts for most days of the week.
But the threat of potentially losing the Airbnb to new codes scares Susan. “It’s made me really sad,” she said. “I just hope they let me keep going.”
It is unclear whether that will be the case or not. The Radoseviches’ attorney is currently discussing their plight with the city’s attorney, Mark explained.
Luckie was clear that a desire to address the details, complaints, benefits and negatives of allowing short-term rentals does not mean the city wants to chase them away.
“We do want to allow it,” she said. “Council has said they want to allow it. We just have to allow it in the right way.”