Oklahoma Watches and Warnings

City council postpones action on home-sharing ordinance as stakeholders stake out positions

OKLAHOMA CITY - The Oklahoma City Council voted to defer action on a proposed ordinance regulating the growing home-sharing business in the city, namely from Airbnb and HomeAway hosts.

The council unanimously approved Tuesday postponing a vote on the ordinance amending zoning code , scheduling it for next month.

"What we're trying to accomplish here is a good solution for everyone," said Ward 6 councilwoman Meg Salyer.

Salyer proposed the zoning amendment, which would have required single-family homes in the Heritage Hills and Edgemere Park neighborhoods to obtain a special exception from the board of adjustment for a fee of $300 (reduced from $1,200) and require homeowner occupancy at the time of rental. A $24 licensing fee would also be assessed, as well as applicable hotel tax.

"A lot of it is the uncertainty. So when they tell you you're going to have to go before the board of adjustment, there was no clear guidelines. What’s to say they’re not going to turn you down?" said Airbnb host Melinda Irwin, who spoke to News 4 after the council meeting.

Irwin, who has lived in Heritage Hills for 22 years, said she started renting her apartment garage several years ago and has a lot of repeat guests.

"Nobody’s going to have a party in my 400 square foot garage apartment," Irwin said in response to concerns from some regarding home-sharing in the historic neighborhoods.

"We are not competing against hotels," Irwin said. "I don’t see how they can see us as a threat, personally."

"There's a whole other set people that stay at Airbnb. The group of guys that look to go have a bachelor party weekend. That's a group of people that stays at an Airbnb," said David Box, an attorney who represents Heritage Hills, during the public comment. "We don't think Airbnb should be outlawed, but I think if you look at what Airbnb is, it's a fundamental change of the use of property."

Property rights at front and center during the public comment, as well as concerns of consumer safety, fewer or next-to-no regulations compared to that of hotels, and erosion of neighborhoods with commercial home-sharing encroachment. Representatives of two hotel and lodging associations also voicing their concerns about the impact Airbnb has on the industry in the greater metro.

"The people of Oklahoma want to retain the right to utilize their property anyway they choose. People in Oklahoma may not want to be an Airbnb host, but they want to have the right to be an Airbnb host," said Cameron Spradling, an attorney representing a number of Oklahoma City Airbnb hosts. "The rules are changing, the neighborhood’s changing, our community’s changing, and it’s a good thing for Oklahoma City that it is."

Some argue that the change can have a long-term effects on work done to restore and keep intact historic neighborhoods nature, charm and single-family homes.

"Our objection is not short-term rentals, altogether," said Bill Carey, a Heritage Hills resident and President of the neighborhood's non-profit historic preservation group. "We think it can be appropriate for a garage apartment, or a part of a house, while the owner is there."

Regulation, of some sort, that Irwin agreed is needed.

"I think there needs to be some sort of ordinance, that it’s good the city knows who’s doing it, so if there is a problem," she said. "I don’t think a $24 fee was unreasonable."

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