Airbnb-style rental bill resurrected in Indiana House

By Katie Stancombe
TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS – Over the past 17 years, Shannon Minnaar has grown comfortable in her Carmel neighborhood, surrounded by a community of families.

But when she bought her home, Minnaar did not expect the revolving door of newcomers that would move in every weekend, just steps away from her front lawn.   

A residential home on her street was purchased for the sole purpose of renting it out to guests, listed on a short-term rental Internet platform called Airbnb.

Several homes in Carmel have joined the short-term hosting business, renting out their homes to travelers and locals alike. However, a number of complaints from citizens like Minnaar have led the city of Carmel to take action to limit the rentals.

“When I bought my house I never assumed in a million years I’d have a hotel four doors away from me,” she said. “I am absolutely not okay with that.”

The Indiana House could consider a bill as soon as Thursday that would limit how much control local municipalities like Carmel might have in restricting these Airbnb-style rentals.

The bill, authored by Rep. Matthew Lehman, R-Berne, had failed to garner the necessary 51 votes to pass on Monday. But Tuesday, lawmakers agreed by a 48-44 vote to reconsider the measure when they return to session on Thursday.  

The proposed legislation raises questions as to who should exercise control over new rental platforms – local municipalities or the larger state government.

“I think it’s just an issue from a public policy standpoint of trying to find that balance between municipalities having to have some control, but not to the point of, in my opinion, infringing upon private property rights,” Lehman said.

In Carmel, cease and desist letters were mailed out to short-term rental hosts, stating hosts must remove their rental listings from all internet platforms within 10 days because of violation of local zoning laws.

Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard said that the letters were inspired by complaints from upset local residents.

“Somebody moves into a house and a neighborhood that’s zoned residential they don’t expect a factory, or a hotel, or a bed and breakfast to pop up next door,” Brainard said.

Brainard also said that he thinks Airbnb, FlipKey and other similar rental sites are good platforms that allow for commerce, but that they need to comply with local zoning laws.

“We’re just saying that we have local zoning laws in place and because there’s a new way to market vacation rentals doesn’t mean that local zoning should be disregarded,” he said.

Although Minnaar doesn’t think Lehman’s bill is bad, she said it is simply too broad

“What I don’t like is the state coming in and telling me, my municipality, my local government, what they can and can’t do as far as their ordinances are concerned,” she said.  “It’s deregulating a short-term rental platforms for every single community. Is that good for everybody? Not necessarily.”

Minnaar said she’s concerned about the language of the bill, and whether or not short-term hosts will be held accountable for the maximum number of days they can rent, which is 180 days per calendar year.

“There’s no accountability, there’s no registration, there’s no regulation. So who’s going to regulate these 180 days?” Minnaar questioned. “These are really important questions.”

Lehman said that the fine details of the bill still need to be worked out, including exactly how they will monitor the number days rentals are used and how the tax will be collected.

While some citizens like Minnaar have specific concerns regarding the bill, others are appreciative of how it might help them to continue hosting guests.

“It would be very easy to regulate us out of business if that is their intention. So I appreciate what the bill is intending on doing,” said Carmel resident and Airbnb host Pam Schneider.

Schneider, who was once at risk of losing her home because of financial struggles, says that because she listed her home on a short-term rental site, the pressure to sell her home has “gone away.”

“It’s an asset instead of a liability,” Schneider said.

Since first listing her home on Airbnb, Schneider has added a few more rooms to rent out and has regular customers almost every week. She said she absolutely enjoys hosting, not only to meet new people, but also to increase her income.

Although she did not receive a cease and desist letter from the city of Carmel, Schneider says she feels that it is an “unnecessary intrusion of government.”

“I get it if you are creating a nuisance in your neighborhood, that is a concern,” she said. Her log cabin sits on two acres of land far away from neighbors.

Americans for Prosperity, a conservative political advocacy group that has lobbied on behalf of Airbnb style rentals nationwide, voiced their support of the bill in a statement:

“Home-sharing services provide more choices for travelers and enable homeowners to supplement their income. No one should be denied the freedom to offer lodging in their home.”

Katie Stancombe is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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