Raleigh City Council draws debate lines on Airbnb rentals

RALEIGH — The city won’t be punishing people who offer their homes for rent on Airbnb just yet, but some members of its governing council have dug in against the Internet-powered room-rental service.

Councilman Russ Stephenson suggested Tuesday that the city contact local users listed on Airbnb, pronounced “air b and b.”

The city so far plans to cite only a single property owner, following an anonymous complaint.

However, Stephenson said, Raleigh should remind people that short-term renting is forbidden in many neighborhoods.

“We should go out on Airbnb and notify all these people, and say, ‘Until we get this figured out, we want you to suspend these services that do not comply with the code,’” he said at a Raleigh City Council meeting.

However, city attorney Thomas McCormick advised otherwise. Because of its limited staff, the city almost always waits for complaints before inspecting possible zoning violations, he said. Raleigh has only received one Airbnb complaint so far.

The city originally had planned to issue a notice of violation Monday to Gregg and Jo Ann Stebben, the owners of a Five Points residence with a bedroom that has a separate entrance that’s offered for rental.

Staff still will tell the Stebbens that they’re breaking zoning law by offering part of their home at $80 a night, but they won’t be fined for noncompliance until January.

In the meantime, city staff will look to other governments’ handling of Airbnb, with a report expected before the fines begin.

“This is a circumstance that’s emerging in a lot of cities throughout the country,” City Manager Ruffin Hall said.

Council members John Odom and Kay Crowder said the city shouldn’t change its rules to accommodate Internet rentals.

“We already have plenty of row houses, and we already have plenty of abuse without the Internet, so I am totally against this,” said northeastern Raleigh representative Odom.

Crowder said much the same of her western Raleigh district.

“This would be an absolute nightmare. I don’t know how else to put it,” she said. “It just wouldn’t be a win for the district.”

Councilman Eugene Weeks said the city needs to “get a handle on the issue,” and make it clear that lawbreaking won’t be condoned.

Councilman Bonner Gaylord and Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin have been supportive of Airbnb.

The council is set to receive information from staff in January and could take action then.

Gregg Stebben, who is soon to receive a citation for renting his home, plans to keep renting for now.

Stebben said that a failure to make way for Airbnb could signal that the city is closed off to new types of businesses and lifestyles.

“In my view, this is an issue that’s open for debate within the city, and so it seems foolish for me to stop,” he said.

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