Wilmington City Council approves short-term rental regulations

Citizens against short-term rentals wore yellow "Neighborhoods Are For Neighbors" T-shirts to Tuesday's City Council meeting. (Source: WECT)
Citizens against short-term rentals wore yellow "Neighborhoods Are For Neighbors" T-shirts to Tuesday's City Council meeting. (Source: WECT)
Some at Tuesday's meeting held signs for and against short-term rentals. (Source: WECT)
Some at Tuesday's meeting held signs for and against short-term rentals. (Source: WECT)

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - After years of debate and discussion, and an extended public hearing at Tuesday's Wilmington City Council meeting, regulations were approved on short-term rentals in the city.

The regulations are set to go into effect March 1, 2019, which gives city staff time to make changes regarding duplexes and accessory dwellings like garage apartments. The second and final vote on these changes is scheduled for the next city council meeting in July.

"We are working on this in two different halves," said Mayor Bill Saffo. "The first one was homestays, which we all agreed upon. We all coalesced that if you had a homestay you could rent out your property, one, two, three bedrooms with certain regulations and restrictions. The other part which is the whole house is the more contentious one. The one that everybody was more embattled about."

Council's 4-2 vote Tuesday means homestay lodging — renting rooms with the host living in the residence full-time — will be permitted in all residential districts and some commercial and mixed-use districts. The number of rooms for homestay rentals was reduced from three to two.

Whole house lodging will also be allowed under the approved regulations. This allows the owner to rent an entire residence for a maximum of 29 days, but the host must live in the home at least six months out of the year. Whole house lodging would be permitted in some mixed-use and commercial districts only.

"What we did tonight was we approved the ordinance with the idea that we would come back in October to revisit the whole house rental component of the ordinance in October. To discuss separation requirements, how many we're going to allow, what the regulations would be for whole house because if we were to pass it this evening just with the homestays then we would have outlawed the whole house. So we had to do both of them together and then make the effective day March 1 of 2019 for both ordinances," Saffo said.

Whole house short-term lodging in residential districts will be discussed at the Oct. 2 city council meeting.

"We do not need whole house rentals, unsupervised people in residential areas. It's not what anybody signed up for when they moved to a residential district," said Michael McGinty, a resident of the historic district.

Hundreds gathered in City Hall Chambers but many left confused or disappointed by the vote.

"They voted in order to vote on something. And they left all the substance for a later date," said realtor Eric Knight.

Saffo said the council wanted to send a message by finally taking some sort of action.

"It's been a long and contentious and complex issue that we've had to deal with. I'm sure it won't be the last time we hear about it, or talk about it, there's a lot of cities around North Carolina that are dealing with it, but we dealt with a portion of it tonight and I think that we want to send a message that we wanted to finally get something onto the books as far as the regulation was concerned," Saffo said.

Mayor Pro-Tem Margaret Haynes and Councilman Paul Lawler voted against the ordinance. Councilman Kevin O'Grady left the room before the vote. The Council members were pushing for an earlier date for regulations to go into effect.

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