Airbnb hosts face legal limbo

Houses for rent on Airbnb’s website during the time of the bike race as of Sept. 11, 2015. screenshot courtesy of airbNB and google
Houses for rent on Airbnb’s website during the time of the bike race as of Sept. 11, 2015.  screenshot courtesy of airbNB and google
Houses for rent on Airbnb’s website during the time of the bike race as of Sept. 11, 2015. screenshot courtesy of airbNB and google

In 2011, the city announced it would be hosting one of the largest sporting events in the world — but there was an important question left unanswered: Where will all the visitors sleep?

Three out-of-towners from Wisconsin found the answer in a private bedroom in the Fan. Breakfast, complimentary bikes and tubes for the river are all included in their stay, as are two roommates, Jessica Eaton and her pitbull, Pip.

Eaton rents the extra bedroom in her apartment using the website Airbnb, which describes itself as a place to “book unique accommodations around the world.” Eaton charges $58 a night and $68 on weekends. However, for the upcoming UCI bike race she upped her price to $170 a night.

“It definitely takes a little stress off my life — in paying the bills and having recreational funds,” Eaton said.

She started renting out her second bedroom on the site in May of this year. Since then she estimates 45 guests have stayed with her, ranging from a single night to a nine-night stay. The experiences with her guests have been good: One gave her the parting gift of a basil plant while others have cooked her meals.

“The guests have been amazing,” Eaton said.

She is not the only one in River City listing her apartment on Airbnb. There are hundreds of people offering up entire homes or private rooms. Many advertise convenient access to the bike race: Some listings offer “HUGE windows directly on bike race,” an “Entire apartment on UCI race course,” or a “Cool comfy rowhouse 2 blocks from UCI.”

There’s just one small catch. Under Richmond city code, all of these people are in violation of the law. This is due to a zoning ordinance that doesn’t allow people to rent out their homes for less than a month — essentially outlawing Airbnb’s entire business model.

Richmond is working on changing the law, but there won’t be any changes in effect before the bike race takes place.

“I was disappointed the city was not able to address zoning issues regarding Airbnb and other online, short-term rental businesses in time for the race, but I am confident it will be addressed as quickly as possible while still allowing for maximum public involvement,” said Richmond city council member Charles R. Samuels in an email.

Steve Skinner, spokesperson for the Richmond City Council, said he doesn’t know of anyone who is opposed to the change, but amending the zoning law is a long process. Samuels introduced a resolution earlier this year to allow short-term renting. The resolution passed on June 22 with eight aye votes and zero voting in opposition.

The city’s planning commission is currently considering the resolution. The planning commission did not respond to the request for comment.

As for enforcement of the law, which remains in place until city council passes an amendment, consequences for using Airbnb are at the hands of the Richmond Police Department. Skinner said he was unsure how the police department would enforce the law in the meantime.

A spokesperson from the police department said the general council for the police would be the only people able to answer the question on enforcement. The council was unavailable for comment prior to publication.

Eaton said she is aware of the current legal limbo involving Airbnb’s Richmond operations. But she also said she isn’t too worried about it being enforced, though if it was made legal it would take some stress off of her.

“That’s one of the reasons I didn’t want to meet where I live (for the interview). Like, what if it was some sort of sting operation?” Eaton joked.

Print Managing Editor, Matt Leonard

11295907_825585874177601_7322101861147123120_nMatt is a senior print journalism major and political science minor graduating this December. Matt began at the CT as a contributing writer before moving up to staff writer and online news editor. Matt worked at The Denver Post with the web team as a Dow Jones News Fund digital intern last summer, and previously interned with WTVR/CBS6. // Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn

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