Since the January passage of an ordinance legalizing short-term rental business in Springfield, property owners have made multiple appeals to keep their businesses in operation.
Of the 144 applications filed with the city, 96 properties have been licensed in Springfield to do business on websites such as Airbnb and Vacation Rental By Owner. So far, five property owners have appealed to council after not meeting the ordinance requirements and city officials say another untold number is still operating illegally – that is, without the new city license.
“We are aware there are some that are fully functioning since we passed the ordinance,” said Daniel Neal, a senior planner for the city. “The ordinance didn’t have a penalty.”
For those trying to play by the new rulebook, five property owners in the last four months have brought their appeals to City Council members. That tally was unforeseen as the process was designed as a last resort only if the ordinance guidelines couldn’t be met.
The latest to appeal is Nick Sibley, who owns a short-term rental property deemed a model for the new ordinance. His issue surrounds meeting the signature requirements.
“It was hell,” he said of the process.
Sibley’s property, a tiny home converted gas station at 601 S. Main Ave., is classified as Type 2. That means the property is not owner-occupied and rented for less than 30 consecutive days at a time in a single-family or townhouse residential district. Type 2 owners are required under city code to obtain 55% of surrounding property signatures for consent.
When Sibley applied for his 200-square-foot short-term rental in February, he was short one signature from the four adjacent property owners at the corner of Main Avenue and Mount Vernon Street. He appealed to council on Oct. 7.
The city did not certify one signature because it was not a legitimate property owner, as the city ordinance stipulates. In a Sept. 7 letter to council, Sibley said he contacted the attorneys for two listed LLCs that own adjacent properties and never received a response.
“I’m sure the client doesn’t want to pay for a phone call,” Sibley said.
He eventually was able to track down the owner of one LLC in Virginia and secured his signature.
Council members approved Sibley’s appeal, calling it a model property for the ordinance.
“This is what I have envisioned with a short-term rental,” Mayor Ken McClure said before the unanimous vote on Oct. 7.
Sibley’s appeal is one of two approved. The second took a bit longer.
Chris Jensen obtained four of eight adjacent property owner signatures for his Type 2 property at 4553 S. Graystone Court, also falling a signature short. He had the same problem as Sibley, though, unable to connect with the owner of an LLC for one property.
For this step in the process, council members have shown empathy.
“I think property owners have some obligation to either weigh in yes or no,” Councilman Richard Ollis said.
After tabling Jensen’s appeal on Aug. 12, council approved the request two weeks later.
Out of operation
Other appeals have not been as smooth.
Council denied the first appeal heard, on July 1, from John and Pat Horner, even though multiple council members had voiced praise for their properties and how they were managed.
The couple did not secure any signatures for their two properties at 438 S. Weller Ave. and 725 S. Kickapoo Ave.
John Horner told council he was uncomfortable with the process involving his neighbors into his business dealings. The Horners operated the Weller Avenue property for six years before short-term rentals were legalized in the city, and it had Airbnb’s top ranking, called Superhost.
In the denial, council members cited the need to keep in line with the process put in place by the ordinance.
The Horners’ properties no longer appear on Airbnb.
Like the Horners, Sibley owns multiple short-term rentals – at 1029 S. Kentwood Ave., 1665 E. Delmar St. and two at 307 S. Jefferson Ave. He doesn’t plan to add any other properties.
“That’s plenty,” Sibley said. “The gas station was the last one.”
He currently has a tenant living in the former gas station but plans to use it as a short-term rental after passing a city inspection.
Sibley has owned the West Central neighborhood property for six years, and he lived in the tiny home for three years before moving out in March.
“It doesn’t disturb the neighborhood; it’s an upgrade in that neighborhood,” Sibley said.
Denied but not done
City planner Neal said short-term rental owners can reapply as many times as needed until the 55% of adjacent property owners is secured.
One applicant, Glenda Cane, may go that route. She owned a short-term rental at 2038 W. Swallow St., next door to her residence, but shut it down after council denied her appeal by a 6-3 vote Sept. 9.
“I thought it was ridiculous,” she said of the process. “I felt like I was being punished for trying to be legal, and they shut me down. It was very stressful.”
Cane said she was told to reapply in six months after seeking legal counsel.
She also was listed as a “Superhost” on Airbnb and had accommodated about 70 guests before ceasing operations.
Council denied her appeal on the grounds of the density requirement, which allows one short-term rental for every eight properties on a “blockface,” or one side of the street. Because the property is located in a cul-de-sac, city staff said there weren’t enough structures on the street for her rental to qualify.
During the public hearing for the appeal, neighbors cited concerns about neighborhood character and the Lauderdale Park subdivision bylaws.
“This is only because they don’t want it overcrowded,” Cane said of her neighbors.
Residents concerned short-term rentals near them are operating illegally can complete a service request with the city to send Building and Development Services staff out for review. The form initiates an administrative hearing process to cease use if the operator does not have a license.
City officials say 12 short-term rental applications have been denied or withdrawn, and 36 are pending review. There are currently 306 Springfield listings on Airbnb and 80 on VRBO.
Neal said no additional staff was hired to handle the new short-term rentals program.
“At this point, we’re not actively pursuing those that are maybe in violation,” Neal said. “We’re trying to get the ones who have applied and working with them first. Once we get those close to complete, we’ll look at being more proactive.”
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