For consumers, the sharing economy offers convenience. For the government, it presents regulatory gray areas. Between 2016 and 2019, the number of short-term vacation rentals (STRs) more than doubled. Cities and counties across North America are facing an increase in complaints related to housing shortages, safety issues, nuisances and code violations as a result. Unfortunately, traditional code enforcement practices have been unable to adequately address the more modern problems that stem from STRs. Luckily, municipalities are finding solutions in technology partners.

Traditional techniques miss the mark

In the traditional, or reactive, code enforcement model, city or county staff receive a complaint about a code violation first. Staff attempt to fix the violation by visiting the site, documenting evidence and issuing a citation. With STRs, most violations occur after hours or on weekends, leaving employees to sort through voicemails on Monday mornings. By then, a backlog of complaints has built up, and any visible evidence of an issue has most likely been resolved. The renters have moved out, illegally parked cars have moved, the trash has been collected or blown away, and someone turned the dance music off hours ago. If code enforcement was to drive by an address, there wouldn’t be much to document. Even then, the remaining evidence is probably not enough to prove a short-term rental ordinance violation. For problem properties, the issue persists. Waiting for a complaint is ineffective.

Local governments have tried everything to be proactive, from paying employees overtime to driving by properties after hours to catch violators to spending countless hours looking up listings online and driving around neighborhoods trying to match pictures to an address. These techniques are time-consuming, costly and rarely effective. If a notice of violation is successful, cases get thrown out due to a lack of solid evidence. In the meantime, the potential for crime increases.

How technology can help

A majority of problems stem from only a few troublesome STRs. In fact, STRs can boost the local economy and provide additional income to citizens who want to offset their mortgages or pay for other expenses. The goals of most code enforcement departments are to make sure their citizens, businesses and visitors are happy, healthy and safe. Many municipalities are finding that STR compliance and monitoring software can help them meet those goals while solving their STR challenges.

Most people are familiar with major short-term rental websites, but there are well over 125 online rental platforms. An STR compliance and monitoring software can quickly scour those platforms all at once to match listings to addresses using publicly available data. The software can then verify these identified addresses with information from the county assessor to easily link a listing to an address and an address to an owner. Code enforcement staff cut out hours of manual work to identify where their community’s short-term rentals are and who owns them.

By proactively identifying STRs, you can apply your efforts on educating hosts and bringing them into compliance, shifting to a more cooperative model of enforcement. In my experience, only a small percentage of hosts typically comply with the myriad of local laws. Through direct communication and education, compliance can dramatically increase. Some software options can facilitate education efforts by bulk sending letters to noncompliant properties, asking them to apply for a permit or documenting infractions.

Other options include an automated 24/7 hotline provided to citizens for afterhours calls. All information related to short-term rentals are documented in one system because you’re using technology, saving you from spreadsheet fatigue.

If you feel overwhelmed by understanding or enforcing the STR market in your community, it might be time to reevaluate your enforcement methods. Are your enforcement efforts reactive? Are you spending countless hours just trying to understand where to start? STR compliance and monitoring software can be an effective solution. Cross STR challenges off your list so you can plan how to tackle the next phenomenon the sharing economy presents.

About the author:

Ulrik Binzer is the Founder of Host Compliance, now a part of Granicus. Host Compliance partners with more than 300 local governments looking to solve their short-term vacation rental compliance challenges. The company provides software, data and guidance with unparalleled reliability and scale, empowering local authorities to make the sharing economy work for everyone in their community.