Collierville may have to allow return of Airbnb, if TN bill becomes law

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Lawmakers in Nashville are considering a bill that would override local government bans of short-term rental services such as Airbnb and Home Away.

Siding with short-term rental hosts, the law would, "prohibit a local governing body from prohibiting the use of property as a short-term rental unit."

The Collierville Board of Aldermen banned short-term rentals last summer, citing concerns about public safety and property values.

Sheila Thomas lives in a Bungalow on Poplar Avenue in Collierville. Before Airbnb was banned, she rented out the studio apartment in her backyard on the home-sharing app.

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People really loved walking from my house, enjoying the community,” Thomas said. “I loved being a host for Airbnb. I met wonderful people.”

Thomas supports the proposed measure, and she’s excited about the possibility of reopening her short-term rental business.

With more of the comforts of home than nearby hotels, Thomas said she averaged about $1500 per month as an Airbnb host.

“It wasn’t just a little spending money,” Thomas said. “It was pretty significant to me.”

James Lewellen is Collierville’s town administrator. He said town officials plan to contact elected officials to voice opposition to the proposed measure.

“We think it’s a bad law,” Lewellen said. “We’ve already gotten input from our community and understand what our community wanted.”

Public officials in Collierville believe the issue should be handled locally. Lewellen said short-term rentals were banned after neighbors voiced concerns.

“Criminal activity, noise, nuisance, people coming and going at all hours of the day,” Lewellen said, “It’s basically a hotel operating next door.”

Airbnb has been associatated with criminal activity in the past. Memphis Police arrested three people at an Airbnb in Midtown in July, and charged the trio with running a brothel in the Midtown rental home.

“They’re concerned about their safety,” Lewellen said. “They’re concerned about their ability to sell their home, and for their home to appreciate in value.”

Lawmakers are faced with a choice between expanding potential tax revenue by protecting hosts from local bans, and allowing local government officials to make its own ordinances and rules.

Earlier this year, Airbnb announced a tax agreement with the Tennessee Department of Revenue. According to the home-sharing service, the state stands to make $13 million in tax revenue in 2018.

Lewellen said the state also earns tax revenue when guests stay in hotels. He believes that’s a safer option, and worries about state taking control from hometown policy-makers.

“The law is written in such a way that it makes it extremely difficult for us to regulate any aspect of it,” Lewellen said.

Thomas is renting her studio apartment to long-term guests, while the future of Airbnb remains unclear. She said she’s never had any issues with her guests.

“The people I had as Airbnb guests were really nice people,” Thomas said.

In a statement to FOX13, an Airbnb spokesperson said the home-sharing app is attracting tourists who wouldn’t otherwise travel to Tennessee. Laura Spanjian, Tennessee policy director for Airbnb, applauded state officials for working with the company.

“Home sharing and short-term rentals are introducing a whole new world of travelers to the authenticity of Tennessee while offering new economic opportunities for thousands of middle class residents,” Spanjian said. “We applaud the Haslam administration for its business-friendly approach to public policy.”

Before the ban was initiated, Airbnb said there were only 10 active hosts in the suburban community. Thomas and the handful of other hosts in Collierville fought last year’s ban, but struggled to convince local officials of the benefits.

“I didn’t feel they even acknowledged or considered the opportunity for what Airbnb could do for our community,” Thomas said. “I like sharing our community. That really is something that’s important to me."