Redding Airbnb Does Fine Without Unenforceable Regulations

Not my front porch, but it looks like one that could be from  Airbnb.

Not my front porch, but it looks like one that could be from Airbnb.

I am not in the hotel, motel or bed-and-breakfast business. And I don’t want to be. I am a journalist and small-business-owner who works from home where I operate A News Cafe.com.

However, since October of 2014 I’ve been a 5-star Airbnb host. In fact, I’m proud to say that as of last week, Airbnb named me one of its Super Hosts. There’s no financial reward with that title, just the pride in knowing that by Airbnb’s high standards, I’m considered an exceptional host.

In my year with Airbnb, I’ve hosted 17 reservations who’ve stayed between one to five nights, for a total of about 51 days a year. It’s a part-time, super-casual endeavor.

I rent out my home three ways: the entire house (I leave); the entire house minus my bedroom (I leave); or just the guestroom (I stay). During the times I rent out my entire home, I might take a little vacation, or visit family or friends.

Airbnb is one of the best things to happen to Redding’s economy in a long time. It helps hosts, it helps guests and it helps the city with an influx of positive, desirable visitors; you know, the kinds who arrive without electronic ankle bracelets.

Unfortunately, I will have to change the way I currently host my Airbnb guests if the Redding City Council agrees to accept the draft ordinance approved Tuesday by the Redding Planning Commission regarding short-term rentals.

Currently, my house can sleep seven – two queen beds, one queen sleeper-sofa and one twin roll-away. Plus, I have an inflatable bed for babies or toddlers. Under the draft ordinance, I would be limited to two rooms with two adults in each room.

Sad to say that the Eureka grandparents I hosted this summer, along with their adult son, adult daughter, their spouses and small children – who CHOSE Redding for their summer vacation –wouldn’t be allowed back in my home under the current first-tier short-term-rental proposal.

For the record, I — like every short-term host who spoke Tuesday during the Planning Commission meeting — am fine with the city collecting TOT (Transient Occupancy Tax) fees via Airbnb. TOT brings extra money to our city to help mitigate visitors’ use of streets and city services. Fair enough.

But some parts of the proposed short-term rental regulations seem unfair.

One Airbnb host who spoke Tuesday before the Redding Planning Commission is the poster child for the Perfect Airbnb Host, with an adorably charming Garden Tract house. Yet because she and her husband live in an older home where there’s room for just one car in their skinny driveway, she and her husband will be unable to continue as Airbnb hosts, if the Redding City Council approves the draft ordinance as-is. That’s because the first-tier Hosted Homestay category prohibits on-street parking, either by the guest or even the host.

This is in a neighborhood where many couples park one of their cars on the street, and the other in the tiny driveway. Likewise, they are banned from modifying their property to create more parking, which is too bad, considering a gravel driveway would seem more desirable than a drought-dead brown lawn.

So goodbye to that sweet Airbnb couple in the Garden Tract.

And then there’s the part of the “Hosted Homestay” first-tier ordinance that requires I remain on the premises with all my guests. The only way around it is if I jump to that second-tier, Vacation Rental category, similar to what official B&B’s operate under, which would require a higher fee, and allow me to rent out more than 120 days a year, which I have no desire to do.

… if an individual desires to rent more rooms out than allowed under the “Hosted Homestay,” he/she would be required to receive a permit to operate either a “Vacation Rental” or “Bed and Breakfast” establishment, whichever better fits their needs…

I’m unhappy about that, mainly because it would defeat the purpose to be a part-time, short-term Airbnb host if I end up spending more on fees than I earn as a host.

It’s worth mentioning that the typical Airbnb host is a middle-class person who can’t plop down $1,400 (or whatever) in hopes she’ll host enough guests to recoup the cost.

TOT aside, I feel frustrated at the prospect of additional regulations on an Airbnb system that’s already working fine.

We Airbnb hosts already pay plenty to make our homes appealing to prospective guests. As a homeowner I already pay property taxes. And I pay income taxes on the money I receive from my Airbnb bookings. Then I pay sales taxes on everything I buy to make my home a better Airbnb rental. And, naturally, Airbnb takes its 3 percent.

Plus, after my guests arrive, they pay taxes on money they spend. For example, this month I rented out my home to four adults here from the East Coast for a Bethel Church conference. After they’d left I found one of their grocery receipts on the counter from my neighborhood Safeway: $269.93. That’s East Coast money spent in Redding, California.

I’ve spent money locally to buy new linens, towels, pillows and bedding to make my guests’ experience better. I’ve spent money at local nurseries where I bought bedding flowers and bark, and I’ve shopped locally to buy umbrellas and patio furniture so my guests can enjoy the pool in a pretty setting. I’ve even bought local art for my walls to show guests the north state’s wealth of creative talent.

To get my home Airbnb/company-ready, I’ve hired local handymen, house-cleaners, window-washers and landscapers.

To prepare for Airbnb, I bought a new sleeper sofa, a new queen-sized bed, a new roll-away twin-sized bed, and an inflatable bed for babies or toddlers. Everything was purchased here in the north state.

I shop at Moore’s Flour Mill for ingredients to make coffee cakes for my guests’ gift baskets that I’ve filled with local coffee, beer and wine.

So forgive us hosts for protesting that in addition to the new collection of TOT fees from Airbnb guests, we now face potential regulations through the city that includes the payment of some yet-to-be determined fees.

Airbnb has helped Redding’s shaky economy where so many citizens struggle to make ends meet. Although for most Airbnb hosts the money earned is supplemental, for other hosts, the income earned from being an Airbnb host helps some people pay their rents, mortgages, or cover the cost of services – such as when I paid $1,400 to a local tree company to remove dangerous limbs poised over my roof.

There’s a Vietnam veteran and his wife who rely upon the extra money from Airbnb to help them buy medications and food. And there’s the young family whose Airbnb hosting has allowed them, for the first time in their lives, to actually have a savings account.

And what about enforcement? How in the world could Redding enforce these proposed regulations regarding everything from whether a guest parks on the street to the number of guests per room and the number or rooms rented in each home?

Redding’s code enforcement department already has a backlog of something like 600 cases for more serious infractions, like health and safety violations.

Why impose largely unenforceable regulations on law-abiding people who are actually going above and beyond to not just better their lives, but this city as a whole?

Again, TOT aside, the potential imposition of strict regulations is unnecessary, and even redundant, because Airbnb already has high expectations of its hosts and guests. If there’s a problem reported to Airbnb about their guests or hosts, Airbnb is on it. Airbnb has zero tolerance for bad-apple hosts or guests.

By the way, when this topic reached a boiling point during a July workshop, Redding had 187 Airbnb homes. As of last night, Redding has 154 Airbnb properties. Is the drop in Redding Airbnb hosts related to the proposed regulations? Who knows.

And here’s something else. During that July workshop there was a group of vocal Gold Hills homeowners who were understandably upset that in their neighborhood cul-de-sac of 12 homes, four were rentals with a revolving door of students.

Even if the city council imposed the recommended short-term rental regulations, they’d be powerless to to take care of the Gold Hills problem if those four homes were rented to students for more than 30 days. The Gold Hills folks would be on their own. In fact, the last I heard they were still on their own, and many of them, unfortunately, blame Airbnb.

Loophole alert, because ostensibly — strangely — an Airbnb host with a guest who stayed, say, five months rather than five days, suddenly doesn’t need to worry about the regulations. But a host like me, who rents an average of 50 days a year, will be regulated beyond the collection of TOT fees.

Something I’ve not addressed is the fact that some hotel, motel and bed-and-breakfast owners protest that Airbnb hosts are taking away business. The thing is, all Airbnb guests choose to stay in private homes for a reason. Maybe they find hotels and motels too impersonal. Maybe they like staying in a neighborhood, rather than a commercial zone. And for sure, many appreciate having full kitchen and yard access, something guests don’t enjoy in the typical hotel, motel or even B&B.

Hotels, motels and B&B inns all have their place and appeal for different needs and situations. Sometimes a hotel, motel or bed-and-breakfast is the right choice. Other times it’s an Airbnb home. Guests get choices.

And those guests are real people. I’m thinking of the young Stanford graduates – both professors – who rented my guestroom solely so they could use my house as home base as they hiked, biked and experienced places like Lassen Peak and Castle Crags. They arrived during Rodeo Week, and paid money they hadn’t planned on spending to see their first rodeo where they paid to eat and drink there, too.

I’m thinking of the San Francisco couple who rented my guestroom for a few days during the Fourth of July holiday. The first night here their bikes were stolen from their car while parked in my driveway (another topic for another day). During their stay, my refrigerator filled with take-out containers of leftover meals they’d bought from local businesses like Shameless O’Leery’s, Vintage and Deja Vu. They rented kayaks and paddle boards from Whiskeytown, and they watched the women’s soccer game at O’Leery’s where they felt a sense of adopted hometown pride as they cheered on our own Megan Rapinoe, and they watched the fireworks from my pool. The also bought a new bike in Redding before they gassed up their car and returned to the Bay Area.

In the case of both of those couples, they rented the guestroom while I was home. They came and went as they pleased. I did my thing, and they did theirs.

But then there are those guests who need their space, privacy and access to an entire house, with me gone.

An example of guests who rented the whole house was the Portland family who used Redding as their home-away-from-home for a Thanksgiving reunion, because the elderly grandmother resides in a Redding assisted-living facility. They shopped in local stores where they bought turkey, ham, wine, pies and everything a family might want for a Thanksgiving feast. In that case, it would have been totally weird for me to be there during their family’s Thanksgiving.

A similar situation was the family who spent Christmas at my house while I was away, and like the Portland guests, they shopped for Christmas dinner and Christmas presents, right here in Redding. The guests were two adult brothers, their wives and children, all here because their grandmother lived just a block from my house, and my Airbnb rental allowed them to have their own space during the holidays.

Can you imagine either of those situations flying in the lobby of the Holiday Inn, or a bed and breakfast inn? Neither can I.

Being an Airbnb host is one of the most fun and gratifying things I’ve ever done. It’s exposed me to fascinating people from far-off places whose paths would never have crossed mine, except for Airbnb. And yes, of course, being an Airbnb host has provided extra funds for me to do things like buy a kayak, or visit my son in the Czech Republic at Christmastime.

However, one of the most valuable, and most unexpected benefits of being an Airbnb host is that it’s helped temper my disgust and disappointment about Redding’s increasingly ugly warts and flaws. Being an Airbnb host has allowed me to see and appreciate our region through the eyes of enthusiastic guests; visitors who marvel at all there is to see and do here.

I applaud city staff and others for spending so many months looking at this issue, and weighing options. The very nature of government is to impose laws and regulations, so city staff and the Planning Commissioners are just doing their job.

Likewise, I realize that although I wish the regulations were less strict, I’m aware that others might believe the regulations are too lax.

But at the heart of the issue — perhaps what chaps me most — is that the city is trying to micromanage what I  – a lawful, positive member of the community – does with my own home. The city will say at this first tier that I cannot allow a guest to park a car on the street in front of my house. It demands I stay in the house with guests,when some of them would prefer I’d just leave.

What kills me is that the draft short-term regulatory proposals are set up in such a way that if I want wiggle room for the things I just mentioned, I’ll have to actually pay the city for that opportunity and elevate myself to kind of business I had no plans to ever go. It makes no sense to me, other than it means that in order to do what I want with my house, I must pay the city more money and jump through hoops.

The final decision rests with the Redding City Council.. I hope the council will take into consideration all the ways Airbnb benefits Redding’s economy. I hope the council will bear in mind how Airbnb attracts quality, curious  travelers who want to be here, and they spend money. Finally, I hope the council appreciates how every Airbnb hosts is a self-appointed citizen ambassador, Redding men and women who shower guests with Chamber of Commerce brochures, travel guides, and restaurant menus, all promoting local sights and businesses.

Redding-area Airbnb hosts and guests shouldn’t be punished, or suffer strict regulations. Rather, if anything, wouldn’t it be wonderful if Redding actually provided some kinds of perks and incentives – a token of the city’s thanks to us for helping our economy at a time when Redding is considered in many circles an undesirable community in which to live, let alone visit?

Yes, it’s well within the city’s power and authority to impose unenforceable regulations and red tape upon Airbnb hosts and guests. But sometimes, like the idea of wearing white stretch pants, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

I implore the Redding City Council, please be Airbnb-friendly.

Airbnb is not broken in Redding. Not yet. Let’s keep it that way.

Click here for a link to Redding’s short-term rental draft ordinance, approved unanimously Tuesday by the Redding Planning Commission.

 Click here for my interview with Kent Manuel, Redding Planning Manager.

Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded A News Cafe in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain holds a Bachelor's Degree in journalism from CSU, Chico. She's an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She's been featured and quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Slate. Bloomberg News and on CNN, KQED and KPFA. She lives in Redding, California.

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