Erie City Council Debates Zoning Changes for Airbnb Rentals
In November 2017, Erie’s Zoning Hearing Board ruled in favor of a Glenwood neighborhood landlord who used his home as a short-term Airbnb rental.
The city’s residential zoning code did not specifically prohibit such use, the board ruled.
But the board overturned its decision in August 2019, four months after a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling in Slice of Life v. Hamilton Township Zoning Hearing Board outside of County Monroe.
The High Court has ruled that such short-term rentals are prohibited unless a municipality’s residential zoning code specifically allows them.
“This case turns everything upside down,” city lawyer Ed Betza told Erie city council at a study session on short-term rentals on Thursday. “I have never seen anything like this with this scan in 30 years. Now it says that unless it is specifically permitted, it is considered prohibited.”
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The state Supreme Court’s ruling, Betza said, placed the burden on landowners and municipalities. The Erie Planning Commission earlier this year approved changes to the city’s zoning code that specifically address short-term rentals advertised on websites like Airbnb and VRBO. The matter is now on Erie City Council, which could vote on proposed zoning changes in late July.
“The city needs to identify specifically where it wants to allow them,” Betza said Thursday.
Rental permit, restrictions as part of the proposed changes
The proposed changes would require landowners to obtain a residential rental permit from the city. No short-term rental may exceed the permitted occupancy in the applicable zoning district. Recreational vehicles, camper vans and tents would be prohibited from occupying overnight. And no occupant would be allowed to disturb the peace and quiet of the surroundings or engage in disorderly conduct.
It would allow short term rentals in medium and high density residential areas, limited residential business areas; local, general and central business districts; and traditional neighborhood neighborhoods.
Short-term rental would be conditional use in waterfront commercial and residential neighborhoods.
The proposed changes would impose the most restrictions on short-term rentals in residential areas R1 and R1A, where they would be considered “special exceptions”.
R1 and R1A are zoning classifications for single family homes, the difference being that the latter is characterized by smaller lots.
The restrictions for these zones address issues ranging from parking to exterior lighting and prohibit exterior speakers and sound systems. They also prohibit short-term rentals from being within 600 feet of each other and require owners to keep a log of guests and their dates of stay which can be inspected by the city upon request.
Owner occupied layout
The owner of short-term rentals in these residential areas must use the house as their primary residence for most of the year.
“This does not mean that the owner has to be in the building when it is rented out, however, it does imply that the owner would reside there for a good part of the year and that this location is listed as the owner’s primary address” Planning Commission secretary Jake Welsh told council members on Thursday.
City Councilor Liz Allen expressed concern about the owner occupancy provision.
“Because we haven’t had any regulations, we know people have invested in properties,” Allen said, “and I think it would be unfair to assume that these would be owned by companies in the outside of town. “
She later added: “My concern is that we know there have been strong opponents and supporters of this, but I have a hunch that a lot of people in the town of Erie don’t even know that these regulations are proposed. They may have bought something and have no intention of having this as their primary residence and they are going to be harmed by it. “
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Welsh said he informed people calling him to inquire about such investments that the city is working on regulations to deal with short-term rentals and it is likely that they will be allowed in the districts of zoning where other forms of short-term accommodation are permitted or in shopping districts.
“Answers vary depending on who is calling and the places they are looking in particular, but we need to base our responses on the existing order,” he said. “I gave them some advice based on the suggested recommendations for future investments.”
Council Chairman Ed Brzezinski noted that the city does not know how many properties are being used as short-term rentals, so regulation will be the city’s “biggest problem”.
“How are we going to deal with something we don’t know exists?” ” He asked.
“It’s a code enforcement problem,” Betza said.
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Planning director Kathy Wyrosdick suggested the city regulate these rentals in the same way it has regulated long-term rentals, through the city’s rental registration program.
Many of them may already be registered as rentals, she said.
“We just need to define those in single-family neighborhoods as special exceptions that have to go through a different process,” she said.
Brzezinski then asked how the city would enforce something like the owner-occupant provision.
Wyrosdick acknowledged that the logistics to track these properties, get owners to register them and follow the zoning code will be “difficult” because it is an “imperfect system”.
“The existing laws would give the city enforcement action if this situation were proven, and in that case we may be reactionary when we find those who do not follow the letter of the law,” she said. .
The Glenwood case, which concerns a property on Upland Drive, is on appeal. Betza believes Judge Stephanie Domitrovich is waiting for the city to address its zoning code in light of the state’s Supreme Court ruling before ruling on the appeal.
City council could adopt the changes at its July 21 meeting. In the meantime, city officials like Wyrosdick and Welsh plan to compile more information on the number and location of existing short-term rentals.