Short-Term Rentals

What's the issue? 

 

Previous zoning regulations restrict Short-term rentals (STRs) to just a few areas in the City, but the City Council has expanded STRs city-wide. (See the sidebar for a history and links to important documents.) 

The New City-Wide Proposal removes most restrictions on STRs and allows them citywide. Short-term rentals  are allowed in any residential area as a special exception, meaning that a public hearing must be held before the Zoning Board of Adjustment at which citizens could express their opinions. However, the regulations set no limitations on  the number of occupants, no set limits on the number of nights, and no parking requirements.  Neighborhood  and homeowner associations do not have to be notified. No actions have been taken to improve enforcement.  In fact the ordinance makes most neighborhood protections discretionary:

 

  • Amount of parking - discretionary

  • Number of people in the unit - discretionary

  • Rent every bedroom to a separate person or group - discretionary

  • Rent every night of the year – discretionary

  • Detrimental to the neighborhood – discretionary

The Zoning Board of Adjustment heard the first STR cases since passing the new regulations on June 24 and 26, 2019. Across the two nights, 18 applications were heard and of these, 17 were approved and one was continued.  Although some applicants had previously operated in  violation of the previous STR regulations, there were no penalties. Objections  from residents who spoke in opposition to the application made no difference in the conditions for approval. TNT will be tracking the STR approval process as well as operators' compliance with the regulations.  Look to this page for more information in the future.

Why TNT is Concerned

The consequences for expanding short term rentals throughout the city will be felt by every resident, whether homeowner or renter. Our homes are not only our greatest financial investment, they are where we have put down roots, raise children, share time with neighbors, grow a garden, plant a tree, and enjoy a peaceful afternoon. The city must consider the value of maintaining neighborhood communities in Tuscaloosa where residents make long-term commitments as homeowners or renters against the value of cash-flows from short-term rentals desired by a minority of owners. Without adequate protections in place, neighborhoods will be harmed by the growth of STRs:  

  • STRs bring instability to neighborhoods because they introduce a steady stream of strangers and disrupt the sense of community.

  • Familiarity with neighbors, their cars, and their routines creates a feeling of safety and security, which is disrupted by the STR guests.

  • STRs may increase neighborhood nuisances, including traffic, parking congestion, and noise, reducing the intrinsic value of all nearby homes as traditional residences.

  • STRs reduce workforce housing stock, which, according to the City Master Plan consultants, is  insufficient to meet future demands in Tuscaloosa.

RECOMMENDED CHANGES TO PROPOSED ZONING ORDINANCE AMENDMENT #1411 (April 23, 2019)

 

To address these problems, TNT proposes several changes be made to the special exception rules, with the following objectives:

 

1.  Make the requirements the same for areas within and outside the Tourist Overlay District:

  • The number of days an STR is allowed to rent is 45 no matter where you live in the city.  The original proposal only limited the number of days within the Tourist Overlay.

  • Fair to everyone no matter where you live in the city

  • Makes it  easier to apply in a systematic way

 

2. Better recognize neighborhoods as stakeholders in the permitting of STRs.

3. Impose density limits within neighborhoods so that streets within neighborhoods remain viable for homeowners and long-term renters.  Avoids dark streets. This keeps neighbors in neighborhoods.

4. Provide a clear standard for occupancy limits that is less reliant on parking spaces. It instead imposes a limit that was previously established (10 people) and thus minimizes nuisances associated with overcrowding. Occupancy limits based on the number of parking spaces are problematic because landlords can use backyards to park cars, thus increasing density without consideration of the size of the home and the typical household size of nearby residences.

5. Improve enforcement and enact meaningful penalties for those in violation.

The detailed language of the TNT recommendations can be found here.

City Council Actions

On May 21, 2019 the City Council approved a text amendment that will allow STR's city-wide (two councilors did not support the proposal). 

 

On March 5 , 2019 the City's Administration and Policy Committee heard a presentation that summarized recommendations from the Planning & Zoning Commission and other constituents. No action was taken. Click here to see the presentation.

STR Survey Report

The purpose of this survey was to respond to a request from the Tuscaloosa Planning and Zoning Commission to gather information from neighborhood residents concerning short-term rental (STR) regulation in their neighborhoods, to gauge citizen support of the concept and to gather input for proposed new municipal regulations and policies for STRs in neighborhoods citywide.

  • 368 residents participated.

  • Approximately 130 neighborhoods were represented by at least one respondent.

  • 45 respondents indicated they currently or in the past have operated a STR.

Click here to read the report.

Synopsis of Previous Regulations: 

A short-term rental is the transient use of any dwelling or any part of a dwelling for overnight occupancy.

  • STRs are limited to 30 days

  • The most common STR is a game-day weekend rental. 

  • STRs are only permitted within two Tourist Overlay Districts in the City of Tuscaloosa, one close to the UA campus and the other around Lake Tuscaloosa. 

  • In part of the Tourist Overlay the number of STRs is restricted.

  • In  some areas of the Tourist Overlay, approval must be earned by a special city board, the Zoning Board of Adjustments, at a public hearing at which residents can voice their support or opposition.

For more information see the City's website.