Shooting latest local episode in continuing debate over Airbnb, short-term rental regulation

Credit: Lawrence Budd

Credit: Lawrence Budd

A shooting at an Airbnb rental home in suburban Montgomery County is the latest catalyst driving area discussions, part of a national debate over if and how to control problems ranging from noise to violence at short-term home rentals used as party houses.

Airbnb officials and the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office are investigating the latest call on July 27 to the 3,300-square foot, two-story colonial at 421 E. Social Row Road.

One person was treated at a local hospital for a gunshot wound after a dispute some callers attributed to rival gangs from Dayton. Several cars were hit by bullets in what was described as a running gunfight between homes in the neighborhood, according to reports.

“We are horrified by the senseless violence reported, and we have removed the booking guest from our community. Airbnb policy expressly prohibits ‘party houses,’ and we have deactivated this listing as we investigate further,” Airbnb Spokesman Sam Randall said in an email response.

Police reports and Randall confirmed investigations by Airbnb and Dayton police of another shooting, from which there were apparently no injuries, on June 30 at the single-story, 1,000-square foot bungalow at 14 Garret St. in Dayton’s South Park neighborhood.

These are two extreme examples of problems that have local officials and neighbors from Oxford in Butler County to Turtlecreek Twp. in Warren County to Oakwood in Montgomery County setting local rules or debating the degree of regulation needed.

“Airbnb has taken a number of recent steps to limit parties from occurring on its platform,” Randall said.

Some U.S. guests under the age of 25 are unable to book entire home listings in their area “unless they have a history of positive reviews.”

Steps have also been taken to prevent parties and events where current public health mandates related to COVID-19 prohibit them.

In addition, Airbnb has “temporarily removed the ‘parties and events allowed’ rule from the House Rules of any Dayton listings that authorized parties, according to Randall.

“While no background check system is infallible, we screen all hosts and guests globally against regulatory, terrorist, and sanctions watch lists. For United States residents, we also run background checks looking for prior felony convictions, sex offender registrations, and significant misdemeanors,” Randall added.

This was good news for Michelle Tegtmeier, the Warren County zoning official trying to respond to complaints from residents in a neighborhood outside Lebanon about parties blamed on a short-term rental available on Airbnb.

“They need to do more. I am glad they are stepping up,” said Tegtmeier, who, along with Planner Hadil Labesabidi, has been gathering examples of short-term rental regulations enacted or in process across the U.S.

Tegtmeier was unsuccessful on July 21 in convincing the Warren County commissioners to support some level of regulation, perhaps limited to information posted on the back of entrance doors, like in hotels, on whom to contact and what to do in emergencies.

Airbnb is a leader in the growing short-term rental business segment including VRBO and other on-line platforms, as well as a plethora of other lesser players.

Last year, Randall said that in 2018, Montgomery County had $1.7 million in host income and 17,300 guests that used Airbnb, while Greene County had $673,000 in host income and 6,700 guests. In Ohio, those totals swelled to $50 million in supplemental income with approximately 460,000 guests in 2018.

Randall declined to provide updated data last week.

Credit: Lawrence Budd

Credit: Lawrence Budd

Warren County, home to Kings Island and other amusement parks and attractions, touts tourism as its number-one industry. The county commissioners look skeptically on any regulation of short-term rentals.

“Is that really something we can control with zoning?” Commissioner Tom Grossmann asked during the work session with Tegtmeier.

Commissioner Dave Young expressed skepticism after hearing concerns of residents of Timbercreek Drive, outside Lebanon, about a 4,074-square-foot home at 2891 Timbercreek with a pool on seven acres and valued at $465,000, becoming a party house for a series of short-term renters.

“Turtlecreek Twp. has become the new Destin, Fla.?” he said.

Next-door neighbor Mike Pfarr hopes the commissioners will take action to help him with what he described as nearly nightly problems with noise, cars pulling into his adjacent driveway late at night and triggering alarms, then joining parades down the street the next morning.

“It’s like being next to a frat house or a resort,” Pfarr said.

He said neighbor research indicated the home rented for $750 a night and $20,000 a month.

“I first noticed it last summer,” Pfarr said, expressing concern about potential for more serious problems. “It just keeps getting worse and worse.”

Owner Chris Luers said he was surprised by the neighbor uprising and questioned why no one reached out to him.

“All of this stuff has pretty much blind-sided me,” he said, confirming daily rental of the home starts at $750.

Luers said he and his family move to an alternate home whenever the one on Timbercreek is rented through Airbnb, mainly during summer months. He said he also rents another home on Airbnb, although less frequently.

“Because this has been so successful, we got another place. It’s lucrative enough,” he said, adding he tries to rent to families and screens potential renters.

While generally favoring for less government, Luers said he agreed the emergency procedures proposed for Warren County short-term rentals were a good idea.

“The county’s doing the right thing,” he said.

Efforts to reach the other owners of homes mentioned in this story were unsuccessful. Tegtmeier said this was one of the biggest problems with the short-term rentals.

Last week, authorities either did not respond to requests for updates or indicated no additional information was available about the two shootings, other than releasing 911 calls and the run sheet from the Social Row incident.

“We almost got shot,” one man told a 911 dispatcher about what he described as a shoot-out between rival gangs from Dayton in the house, across from the Centervillle Grace Church on Social Row Road.

Ned Denlinger, executive pastor at the church, said police told him there was an exchange of gunfire as the suspects ran between homes along social Row Road.

He said the incident was just an escalation of problems, including someone doing “donuts” in the church sports field and knocking over a sign with their car. He said their parking lot was sometimes filled with party-goers who left behind trash.

“About 11 o’clock at night, all these kids start showing up,” Denlinger said. There’s no reason to have an Airbnb in this neighborhood. "

Records indicated the Social Row case was the latest in a handful of incidents when deputies were called, for noise on Feb. 22, 2020; a party and noise on Aug. 18, 2019; and a party on Jan. 11, 2019.

“It’s common for this house to have big parties. The police know about it,” said a woman who also called 911 after hearing shots in the neighborhood, just east of Ohio 48.

On Aug. 11, Oxford officials are scheduled to present proposed regulations to the city’s planning commission. After debate, a resolution was adopted in April 2019 requiring registration by short-term rental owners.

“The City has explored the passage of short-term rental regulations for some time,” Planner Zachary Moore said in an email. “The Department also partnered with Miami University’s Farmer School of Business to conduct additional short-term rental research for the City of Oxford and surrounding areas, completed in January 2020.”

Labesabidi said regulations on short-term rentals by Airbnb were in place around the country, including New Orleans. The American Planning Association has weighed in on the topic, most recently in early 2019, with a study of New Orleans’ system that “offers strategies and lessons learned for planners as they navigate this highly contentious issue.”

Rather than respond to problems, Airbnb prefers “to work with local governments on the front end,” Randall said.

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