It was way back in 2018 when City Councilor Ben Kimbro and then-Councilor Blake Ewing held public meetings to discuss whether — and how — the city should regulate short-term rentals.
More than a year has passed, 2020 has arrived, and the city still doesn’t have policies in place to regulate Airbnbs and businesses like it.
Kimbro, who was elected chairman of the council in December, said a number of factors have contributed to the delay: difficulty coordinating schedules among city councilors and city staff; a desire to address all relevant issues pertaining to the proposed ordinance; and a busy 2019 City Council calendar that included special meetings on the city’s Equality Indicators reports.
By the end of this month, however, Kimbro expects to finally have a final proposal.
“The last time we met we were trying to clarify, like, two sentences,” he said.
Kimbro is part of a City Council subcommittee that has been working with the Mayor’s Office to finalize proposed procedures and regulations. The subcommittee began its work last year after the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission voted to recommend that owners of properties used solely as Airbnbs or other short-term rentals be required to go before the city’s Board of Adjustment for a special exception to the zoning code.
The city’s Planning Office had recommended that anyone seeking to open a short-term rental be required to get a special exception to the zoning code. But the subcommittee is instead discussing the possibility of eliminating the special exception process and replacing it with a licensing requirement.
The revenue raised from licensing fees would be used to hire a person to oversee implementation and enforcement of the short-term rental regulations.
The employee would likely work out of the city’s Working in Neighborhoods department, which is overseen by Dwain Midget.
Midget said he expects the city would initially hire one person to work on short-term rentals. That could change, depending on how many licenses are issued.
“We’re starting on the simplest basis of saying we know we are going to need an inspector,” he said.
Planning Commission staff last year estimated that at least 300 Airbnbs or other short-term rentals are operating in Tulsa. But that estimate is likely low. Airbnb.com alone lists more than 300 properties in Tulsa.
Midget said he believes Working In Neighborhoods, which historically has been hard pressed to keep up with the zoning and property maintenance complaints it is charged with responding to, will be able to handle the additional work.
“It (the workload) has been an issue in the past but what we’re doing is we’re trying to use new methods to address complaints, new technologies,” Midget said. “We’ve been automated, so that’s helped out a lot.”
Kimbro said he expects that the WIN employee will do more than enforce short-term rental regulations. He or she would be the person Tulsans speak with when they have a question about how the program works and what is required to operate an Airbnb or other short-term rental, the city councilor said.
“Sort of the short-term rental all-encompassing customer service” person, Kimbro said.
In Oklahoma City, short-term rental operators are required to get a special exception to the zoning code if the property is not their primary residence. Special exceptions are also required for short-term rentals in Historic Preservation Districts there.