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Little Rock Planning Commission drafts ordinance that would regulate short-term rentals

Airbnb's logo displayed on a computer screen in Paris
Lionel Bonaventure
AFP/Getty Images
The Little Rock Planning Commission will consider the testimony that was given by the public during a meeting on Tuesday. The Commission invited the public to give their input on a draft of an ordinance that would regulate short-term rental properties.

The Little Rock Planning Commission has drafted an ordinance to regulate short-term rentals (STR), which includes Airbnbs. On Tuesday, the Commission along with city board directors held a public meeting to get input on the resolution.

The ordinance, if passed, would include requirements for Airbnbs to have fire alarms, obtain business licenses, pay inspection fees and require owners be available on call. Paul Dodd, a local Airbnb owner, said he is against the ordinance because he feels it was based on ordinances that were made for tourist towns. He also said the ordinance causes confusion.

“The draft does not define who is an owner, what happens with places that are sublet [when tenants lease property to a subtenant] or whether large owners can evict tenants of STRs,” he said.

Those who were against the ordinance also expressed concerns with the fees and regulations required by owners.

Angela Mathews, a local Airbnb owner, said she renovated a home near Central High, which is in a historic district. She said even with the tax credit available for helping renovate homes in historic districts, there were still challenges. She said Airbnbs provide a way for investment to happen in areas that historically have been underinvested in.

“Being able to short term rent this property gave us the option to make and rehab what was a very sad and dilapidated house. That house wasn’t occupied, so we weren’t taking away housing. This was not even something livable and we turned this into something livable,” she said.

John Walker Jr., whose father owned apartments in Little Rock, said that Airbnb owners were being self-serving. He said Airbnbs can change the composition of a neighborhood and have a negative impact on them.

“It seems like more white folk are coming up and they’re looking for opportunity. It’s an opportunity for white folks to come in and take our properties,” he said. “If you look at downtown all those properties used to be Black, my dad would say the same thing. Now, they’re white.”

Pam Powell, president of the University Park Neighborhood Association, said there needs to be more transparency on where Airbnbs are located. She also said there are issues with Airbnbs when the owner isn’t present.

“Residents want clarity to know if we bought something in an area zoned residential, it means residential. I saw something where the [Little Rock] Chamber of Commerce is going to be paying $10,000 for professionals to move here,” she said. “Little Rock is a beautiful city. We have a lot to offer, but would you want to move into a neighborhood that you thought was zoned as residential only to find out that a motel without a manager was next door?”

Earlier this year, lawmakers in the Arkansas Legislature tried to pass SB197, which would have taken away local governments' ability to regulate STRs. The bill passed in the Senate but failed to pass in the House, after homeowners, restaurant owners, hotel owners and city officials from across the state spoke out against the bill.

Ronak Patel is a reporter for Little Rock Public Radio.