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Airbnb, VRBO, & Other Short-Term Rentals: Questions to Ask to Navigate Cities & HOAs

Erin Spradlin
3 min read
Airbnb, VRBO, & Other Short-Term Rentals: Questions to Ask to Navigate Cities & HOAs

The people who we talk to usually have one of two profiles: The first use Airbnb casually as a means to help cover vacation costs or snag a few extra hundred dollars a month (which is how we started). The second profile consists of people who want to utilize Airbnb to accumulate properties and wealth quickly by leveraging short-term rentals.

Depending on how comfortable you are with being yelled at by the government or your HOA, the casual Airbnb-er need not worry too much about city laws or HOA rules. (I say this because in our experience, you usually receive a warning before getting fined, so risk is limited.) If you are an investor wanting to buy properties though, it is critical that you educate yourself on your city laws and HOA rules first.

Outside of major metro areas, most cities lack specific laws for short-term rentals, but it’s reasonable to assume these laws are coming. Since you are reading this blog, you must have an idea of how popular short-term rentals are. Soon, the neighborhood associations and your local government will be just as familiar with the phenomenon. Because of this, it’s worth calling your city planner and asking if they have specific short-term rental laws.

This can be easier said than done, however, so below I’ve listed a few ways to go about it.

How to Navigate Your City’s & HOA’s Short-Term Rental Laws

Related: With Government Crackdowns, Are Short-Term Vacation Rentals A Doomed Investment Niche?

Asking the Right Questions

When asking if there are rules or regulations, include the words “short-term rentals,” “Airbnb,” and “VRBO” in your language so that you cover all your bases. If there are rules in place, ask to be emailed the documentation. 

If they say there aren’t any rules, don’t stop asking questions. You’ll want to know the future regulatory environment, as well as anything that may not sound sound like a short-term rental rule but actually is.

In this scenario, ask:

1. If the city council is discussing potential laws for short-term rentals or if the planning department has started any kind of review.

2. What the present attitude is toward short-term rentals. Does it seem like it might shift one way or the other? Are there nearby cities in which existing laws are being reviewed?

3. If there are rules or laws pertaining to rentals that last 30 days or less. (This is a short-term rule that many cities utilize but doesn’t specifically mention Airbnb or VRBO. Thus, it often gets missed.)

If you have an HOA, it can also prevent you from using short-term rental sites. A lot of HOAs have restrictions on rentals of less than 30 days. Many more are adopting laws that prohibit renting for 90 (or even 180) days or less. (This happened to us.)

Depending on your point of view, there is also some effective software out there that will help the HOA detect if you are running an Airbnb in your place. (We experienced this, too.) These tools work, so the HOA can find you and shut you down in no time.

Related: Is Airbnb Really Ruining Rental Markets?

Getting Involved

The good news is that if your city or your HOA doesn’t have these laws yet, you can help affect change. Go to council meetings. Get on your HOA board. Educate people on why short-term rentals are good for the city, good for business, and less problematic than they probably appear. (A short-term renter who’s a problem is gone in four days, whereas a long-term renter who’s a problem is a year-long headache.)

Trust me when I tell you it’s worth your time to look into your city laws and HOA rules. You definitely do not want to buy an investment property intended to be a short-term rental and then get shut out of short-term rentals.

Good luck!

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Have you run into any issues with your HOA or local government? How did you handle it?

Let me know in the comment section below!

Note By BiggerPockets: These are opinions written by the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BiggerPockets.