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Short-term Rental Owners Register With City Ahead Of Tourism Season

By Johanna Cano, posted Jun 4, 2019
With new regulations on short-term rentals requiring owners to register their lodging with the city of Wilmington,125 had registered their short-term rentals as of April 16.

Of those 125, 33 are homestays -- individual rooms that are rented in the host’s home -- and 92 are whole-house rentals, an entire house rented without the host present, according to the city.

Many more homes, however, were listed on popular short-term rental listing sites, according to one industry tracker.

According to AirDNA, a website that aggregates data and tracks daily performance of short-term rentals, there were 730 active rentals in Wilmington in April, including 555 whole-house rentals, 166 homestays and nine shared rooms.

AirDNA gathers data from listings on Airbnb and VRBO, two online marketplaces for short-term rentals.

The discrepancies between the numbers of those registered with the city and the rentals on AirDNA could be because active rentals, as defined by AirDNA, are rentals that had at least one reserved or available day in the month of April, said Abigail Long, public relations manager with AirDNA, in an email.

It would be misleading to suggest that there are rentals flouting regulation in the city, she said.

Another reason for the difference in numbers is that the city boundary and that of AirDNA are somewhat different, with AirDNA’s map extending south to Sea Breeze and the city’s ending at about the Silver Lake neighborhood, a 7.6-mile distance. AirDNA’s map also goes slightly higher-up north than the city’s.

The number of registered short-term rentals (STRs) with the city as of April is lower than it should be, said Mike Harrington, owner of Carolina Retreats, the parent company for Topsail Realty Vacations and Blue Water Realty.

“From a big picture perspective, the number of STR’s currently registered in the city of Wilmington itself seems low, based on demand,” Harrington said in an email. “I think the new regulations obviously are going to deter professional hosts and owners from investing in properties that would add to this number.”

Years of debate and public meetings led to the approval of short-term regulations in Wilmington for homestays and whole-house rentals in both residential and non-residentials zones, which went into effect March 1.

Wilmington City Council approved whole-house rentals in residential districts with limitations on the number of homes that can operate and their proximity to each other.

Regulations require whole-house rentals to be at least 400 feet apart (250 feet inside the 1945 corporate limits) and they can’t make up more than 2% of total house units.

Homestays must have a host present and can’t rent out more than three rooms in the home.

Both homestays and whole-house rentals can’t be used as bed-and-breakfast, and no parties, weddings or large gatherings are allowed.

On April 15, the city held a lottery selection for the 158 who registered for the lottery prior to that date. Those who “lost” the lottery were eliminated because they were either within 400 feet of B&Bs or the “winners,” who got a favorable number and were able to register their location first.

Registrations for short-term rentals remain open, Ron Satterfield, assistant planning director with the city of Wilmington, said at an April 16 city council meeting.

“Registrations for new whole house [and homestays] can still occur, as long as there is not a conflict with the required buffers or the ultimate cap that was placed by council,” Satterfield said. “Registrations for both are required. The opportunity is always there, and this is an annual registration. If someone drops out that would open up an opportunity for someone to get in.”

However, with tourism coming up in the summer months, the low number of registrations could be because short-term rental owners might have decided not to register their properties, Harrington said.

“This type of regulation always leads to people going ‘underground’ and just taking the risk,” he said. “This leads to the city getting cut out from taxes.”
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