By Adrianna Pitrelli
INDIANAPOLIS — After raising four kids in Oregon, Jenine Saxton and her husband moved to Richmond and were lonely without having friends in the area.
“I began to dread being alone in an empty house,” Saxton said. “But as Indiana is the crossroads of America, we hoped if we opened an Airbnb, we would have people wanting to stay with us.”
Saxton is one of more than 3,100 Airbnb hosts in Indiana. Her home is a half mile away from Earlham College and within walking distance of two seminaries, so she regularly has parents of students staying with her. Since first hosting families in 2012, Saxton has been nothing but pleased.
Lafayette Mayor Tony Roswarski talks to lawmakers Wednesday about what his city is doing about Airbnbs. He said it is a positive up and coming industry. Photo by Adrianna Pitrelli, TheStatehouseFile.com
“These are special guests who I make relationships with and that’s great because we can provide a deeper and more personal connection than a hotel can,” she said. “I can give them recommendations and they can provide friendship.”
Airbnb hosts like Saxton, government officials and people who live near the short-term residences testified about the pros and cons of Airbnbs Wednesday before the Interim Study Committee on Commerce and Economic Development.
It comes after House Bill 1133 failed in the spring. The proposed legislation would have eliminated local bans on short-term rentals and the owners of rental property would have been required to hold liability insurance for third-party claims.
However, at Wednesday’s meeting, Sen. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper, said the goal of the committee wasn’t to talk about the previous bill but to look at standards for Airbnbs as it is becoming a more popular industry and business.
At first, Saxton’s Airbnb was a hobby, but as time went on, it became a business when she started making enough money for it to be a part-time job.
Other hosts, like Kathryn Cross, have made it their full-time job.
“It provided me a way to be a mom but make enough money where I can do things like send my kid to a $4,000 trip to China,” she said.
Lafayette Mayor Tony Roswarski said Airbnbs help people afford homes they normally couldn’t, and provides more variety for travelers.
“Airbnbs are a part of the economy of the future — a good part because people use it and people enjoy it,” he said.
When six guys stayed Cross’ bungalow near Broad Ripple, they told her they spent more than $2,100 in the area because the stay was so affordable compared to a hotel.
“They chose not to stay downtown because there was no reason to do that when they can stay at a nice home together,” said Cross, who lives at another location.“So it not only helps me make money but it helps the city and the area make money.”
Despite the positive economic impact, and hosts saying all their guests have been pleasurable to have in their homes, lawmakers expressed concerns about the Airbnb guests hosting parties that can disrupt the neighborhood with noise and trash.
“From my personal experience, Airbnb houses have been turned into party houses and there is no comfort for the neighborhoods and the neighbors don’t have a voice,” said Douglas Haney, who is part of Carmel’s corporation council. “We have police power for noise ordinances but when the police cars show up, of course people are going to be quiet.”
Haney said he believes homeowners’ associations should be allowed to decide if they want Airbnbs in their neighborhoods.
Parking in the neighborhoods is also an issue.
“Because these homes are being rented on a short term basis, there is a lot of turnover and there are a lot of people parking in one area if there is, for instance, a party being hosted,” said Lindsay Moss, assistant of government affairs for Accelerate Indiana.
Moss said there should be some sort of parking ordinance for Airbnbs.
Sherry Yager told the committee that she has lived in Princes Lakes for 32 years and has never felt unsafe in the community of about 2,500 until her neighbor began renting her property through Airbnb.
“This house is a big party house and people are staying up late and I can’t sleep,” she said. “When I come home from work, I can’t park because people are parking in my spot.”
While Yager said she supports Airbnbs because of the economic impact and the accessibility for travelers, she would like to have a say if they are permitted in the area.
“I want my neighborhood to be able to address if we want this and in a small community, we don’t want party houses,” Yager said. “We really hope we can get some backing on the state level.”
Adrianna Pitrelli is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.