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Monday, January 25, 2021

Fort Thomas Planning Recommends Adding Short-Term Rentals to Zoning Codes

When she opened her short-term rental business, Lisa Adams followed all the rules but learned that she needed clearer regulation from the city.
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by Robin Gee, city council beat editor

The Fort Thomas Planning and Zoning Commission is recommending that city council adopt a resolution to add the term "short-term rentals" as an accessory use in some residential and commercial zones. In addition, short-term rental properties would also be added to the city’s off-street parking requirements. 

Basically, short-term rentals involve renting out rooms in a residence or the entire residence for a short and specific amount of time. The practice has grown in popularity around the world as an alternative to hotels and motels and an opportunity for homeowners to have a small business using their available space. 

Companies, such as Airbnb and its competitors, help facilitate the process for homeowners.

Planning and Zoning has been discussing the topic for several months. About a dozen short-term rental businesses are already operating in the city, but there have not been clear regulations or specific language in zoning codes to cover them.

The move does not add any specific rules or regulations but adds the term and its definition to the zoning ordinances. Short-term rentals are now defined as "the accessory use of any residential dwelling that is advertised for rent for transient occupancy by guests for less than 30 consecutive days. A short-term rental shall be clearly incidental and subordinate to the use of the dwelling for residential purposes."

The term replaces more antiquated terms already in some of the ordinances including "boarding house," "tourist court" and "tourist home."

A business owner asks for help 

Lisa Adams said her short-term rental business, My Old Kentucky Cottage, was thriving until the COVID-19 pandemic. She plans to return as soon as it it safe.

Lisa Adams started her short-term rental business, My Old Kentucky Cottage, in 2018. She was under the impression that she had followed all the rules. She secured a business license, limited liability insurance and had been paying business taxes. Yet one day, she received a letter from the city saying there was a complaint from neighbors and that she must stop.

She said she was shocked because she had a good relationship with her neighbors, and no one had contacted her with any problems. And, she thought she had all the right licensing and insurance in place.

She called the city and spoke with City Administrator Ron Dill. He explained that the letter was a generic one, sent to anyone who was operating a short-term rental in the area. The complaint that triggered the letter was for another business, not hers, where a college party had gotten loud. Short-term rentals were not a listed use in city zoning ordinances, so the complaint triggered a letter to all such businesses known to the city.

"So after that, I thought, let’s change the law, so I can do this the right way," said Adams. She wrote a letter to Dill and met with him to ask what could be done and whether regulations could be put in place. The next step would be to bring the issue up before council, and she agreed.

After Adams presented the issue to council, city officials decided the issue must first be addressed in zoning code. Planning and Zoning had been exploring the idea over several months. Now it has approved changing language in many of the city’s residential and a few commercial zones. 

Opening up opportunities for business and the city


Short-term rentals could bring extra income to home owners and to the city's coffers.

“I wanted the opportunity to keep doing this business,” explained Adams. “I don’t make enough to live off the money I make but it certainly supplements my income." She is also a self-employed graphic designer.

She said she started the business after a job loss and a divorce. The move gave her income at at time when she needed it most. Opening her home up to complete strangers was a bit scary at first, she said, but since she started it has opened up many opportunities to meet new people and to show off her lovely home and the city she loves.

Unlike a short-term rental in a tourist area or even in downtown Cincinnati, most of her guests have ties to the immediate area, to Fort Thomas itself. For example, she said, one of her guests stayed with her for four days because her sister was about to give birth, and she wanted to be near the hospital. The woman was from Fort Thomas originally, and she told Adams, it gave her a chance to relive some of her favorite memories as she waited for the new arrival.

The COVID-19 epidemic shuttered her business for the time being, said Adams, but she looks forward to opening up again as soon as things are safe and on the road to normalcy. She recently received a "superhost" rating on Airbnb for her top-quality accommodations, she noted. My Old Kentucky Cottage can be found on the airbnb site but currently booking is blacked out due to the pandemic.

Adams noted that her business not only adds to the city coffers through business license fees and taxes, but also brings in visitors who will spend money at city businesses. And, it provides a great opportunity to show off the city.

Planning and Zoning’s recommended zoning ordinance changes should be on the agenda for a first reading at the next city council meeting. City council will discuss and vote after the second reading, likely at the following council meeting. At that time the city could add regulations or requirements.

For Adams and others operating these small businesses in the city, it will be a relief to know what the rules are and to be regulated as any other business in the area.

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