Members of UA community respond to short term leasing rule

Members of UA community respond to short term leasing rule

CW File

Last week, the Tuscaloosa City Council approved a measure supported by Mayor Walt Maddox that allows short term leasing in the Tuscaloosa area. The ruling allows short-term rentals in the T.O. Lake District and the T.O. Downtown District. The first area affects residents around Lake Tuscaloosa while the other area affects residents downtown bordered by the Black Warrior River, McFarland Blvd, 15th Street and 29th Ave.

Members of the Tuscaloosa community were divided on the issue of short term leasing. The topic has been the focal point of heated debate at multiple council meetings and the practice of short-term leasing and property sharing is already something many residents are already partaking in. One resident exclaimed at one of the city council meetings that she was already leasing out her house for the short term despite the illegality of it.

The City Council's ruling is supported by most students and parents, who wish for closer and cheaper options on game days and parent's weekends. With only a limited amount of hotel rooms in the city, which oftentimes book months in advance, parents are forced to either pay unusually high prices or stay far away from their kids. Demand for lodging on these busy weekends is high. The idea of allowing short-term leasing is to provide parents with options other than hotel rooms that may provide them with a significant improvement in proximity to their children.

"I think allowing residents and students to rent out spaces short term can finally break hotels' monopoly on game day lodging," said Mike Smith, a senior majoring in economics and finance. "Prices for short term visitors will decrease and we can use our city's resources much more effectively."

A citywide hotel price drop is considered another positive of legalizing short-term rentals. Smith also pointed out that college students would be able to make some extra money this way. College students living in areas with extra space would be able to rent it out for a day, week or longer. 

However, not everyone is convinced that legalizing short-term leasing will bring more good than bad. At the council meetings and through different media platforms, Tuscaloosa residents who live in the affected neighborhoods and residents who are already participating in short-term leasing are among the protesters of the new policy. Residents in neighborhoods of the two districts permitted for short-terms are afraid of losing the integrity of the neighborhood to shady figures that could potentially abuse this system. The fear stems from belief that criminals will be attracted to these locations. Despite this concern, students still think that the rewards outweigh the risks.

"The concerns surrounding short-term rentals are far-fetched at best," said Gerald Fraas, a junior economics major. "There is little reason for this not to have already been a policy of the City of Tuscaloosa, given the high demand of short-term rentals around the weekend of major University events."

The other major concern is that of those already participating in short-term leasing illegally. Although some of these people wish to participate in this activity legally, most who already lease out in the short term are not in favor of fees that will come from the licensing, inspections and renovations that all residents must undergo in order to receive permission. There will also be a lodging tax, which short-term leasing companies such as Airbnb sometimes pay for at the state level. All residencies that lease in the short term will be required to undergo government inspection for smoke detectors, usable windows in bedrooms, guardrails and emergency lighting to highlight exits, among others.

However, even with the fear of criminal activity and the displeasure of those who are not in favor of the various governmental fees, most people feel this is a step in the right direction towards a better college experience for all involved.

"What I am most happy with about this is that my family will be able to have a better time being closer together when they visit," said Anna Van Zandt, a junior who is transferring to UA for her first year. "My parents would like to stay as close to campus as possible, and this really helps."

The Zoning Board of Adjustment will be allowing other residencies throughout Tuscaloosa to rent out as well, but not without applying and receiving approval from the ZBA. Additionally, the ZBA can set a limit to how long the property is allowed to house short-term tenants.

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