Same song, second verse?

A Missouri bill that opponents say would hurt vacation rentals while pretending to protect them is making its way through the state House of Representatives. Missouri REALTORS® opposes it, just like they opposed a similar bill last year. Sonya Anderson’s (R-131) House Bill 2457 is in many ways akin to her House Bill 608, which died in the 2017 legislative session after meeting furious opposition from realtors and homeowners who feared they would be negatively affected by it. Vacation rentals giant Expedia openly supported that bill; but this year, as HB 2457 wriggled its way through committee, Expedia lobbyist Bill Shoehigh sat quietly in the room as Anderson fielded questions.

AUDIO OF PUBLIC HEARING ON FEB. 27, 2018, PROVIDED BY STATE REP. KEITH FREDRICK:

The summary for HB 2457 claims the bill "prohibits political subdivisions from imposing a fee or enacting an ordinance that prohibits residential dwelling rentals," but the bill also creates new definitions of terms like "Residential Dwelling Rental" and "Reasonable Regulations;" some say those definitions could end up hamstringing the very industry the bill purports to protect. 

Missouri REALTORS® represents more than 20,000 realtors across the state, and was the loudest voice against HB 608 in 2017, which came to be known as the “Expedia Bill.”

Only in the convoluted wrangling of the legislative process does one find such a phenomenon: an organization that deeply supports vacation rentals, opposing a bill that would prevent cities from banning them. Realtors, after all, tend to be fans of vacation rentals: in tourist areas, it can be an additional selling point for a home, with the potential for a side stream of rental revenue that can help offset mortgage costs. It’s true that a few cities have banned vacation rentals; in other areas, homeowners associations ban them. But opponents fear the myriad new definitions and parameters set forth in HB 2457 would end up spoiling a good thing across the state under the guise of fixing it in a few municipalities. The cure, in other words, could be worse than the disease.

“We’ll do what we can to stop it,” said Sam Licklider, Chief Lobbyist for Missouri REALTORS®. Vacation rentals have only been banned in a few places, he argues, and those cities are in the process of trying to work out what’s best in each of their unique situations. As a result, he explained, “We’re about at the point where we just let the cities decide for now.”

Part of the problem with this bill, he adds, is that there are so many voices speaking into it: the Hotel/Motel lobby, the Missouri Municipal League, Expedia/AirBnB/etc, Missouri REALTORS®, as well as grassroots groups. “It’s huge,” he said of the issue.

With so many groups involved, the amendment process can be like a game of whack-a-mole. “I’m not sure it can be fixed to meet our objections,” without drawing objections from another side, Licklider explained.

The bill was voted out of the General Laws committee on Tuesday, March 6, but only after an eyebrow-raising amendment was added, allowing cities to "regulate the density of residential dwelling rentals in any zoning district."

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The issue carries serious weight at Lake of the Ozarks, where the largely seasonal economy is built on vacationers. Thanks to the unique nature of the Lake—it’s privately owned by Ameren, and homes are allowed to be built nearly all the way down to the shoreline—there are tens of thousands of homes dotting the 1,150 miles of shoreline. Owning a lakefront home is a dream for many who come to love the Lake of the Ozarks, and when they buy a house on the water, some opt to rent out the home for summer weekends when they don’t plan on coming to the Lake. That scenario brings an untold amount of revenue to the region.

The Lake of the Ozarks area’s three state representatives all say they think a state law on the issue is not needed, and none have supported the bill. Rocky Miller, who was an early supporter of HB 608 in 2017 has taken a different stance this year. Miller says at this point he is “ok with the status quo” when it comes to the current laws (and lack thereof) for vacation rentals. He added, “[I] will continue to support the Realtors and their position.” Wood echoed Miller’s stance, saying his preference would be no new state laws governing vacation rentals. Diane Franklin pointed out she voted against the Expedia Bill in 2017 when it came to the House floor; she says the issue should be left up to the cities. “I think that is the best approach… then the local folks have the opportunity to affect that,” she said. “I understand the hotels’ position on it, but when it’s at the state level, then the hotels have more ability to weigh in on that… at a local level, the hotels don’t have an upper hand.”

 

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