Oxford council delays short-term rental ordinance decision

Jan. 25—OXFORD — The issue of specifying how and when the owners of short-term rental property should be in contact with their neighboring owners has forced a delay in approving an ordinance regulating that type of property.

For its regular session Tuesday, the Oxford City Council agenda contained the item to set a Feb. 14 public hearing and vote on the ordinance; it comes after the city planning commission voted during a special called meeting Jan. 19 to recommend approving the new regulations.

However, the version as passed by the planning commission omitted the following: "The Operator has made best efforts to notify the properties immediately adjacent to the desired short-term rental of the application."

That is, the ordinance did not contain a requirement that neighboring property owners had to be told of how to contact the owner of the rental property.

Council President Chris Spurlin said he believed there may have been a "misunderstanding or it was worded wrong in the original concept."

"It was taken out about the owner of [the short-term rental property] giving [surrounding property owners] the information where they could call if they had a problem," Spurlin said. "I think that just adds to the accountability of making sure you don't rent to a problem if you know your phone is going to ring off the hook."

Neighbors of any given rental property, Spurlin said, ought to be given a cellphone number they can call if any problems crop up there.

"With that," he said, "I don't think you are going to rent to people who are going to cause problems. The owners should have to provide the neighbors with a contact number if there are any problems."

Mayor Alton Craft said if the city notified the rental owners of a problem "they are going to be here and will want to talk to you about what is going on."

Councilwoman Charlotte Hubbard theorized the city would probably receive complaints regardless, and the ordinance, if passed, is "to protect that person in the first place."

"If a person putting one of those homes in complies with all of the rules, it's going to be a really nice house," Hubbard said. "A person who is able to afford coming in there is a person you can trust with your home. They are not going to rent to anybody who is going to trash something after they have spent that much money on it."

"If you are going to build a nice house and only rent to nice people, why would you mind" [if you had to provide the neighbors with a contact number]?" Spurlin replied.

Councilman Steven Waits asked what would be required if the council were to add the specific contact requirement to the ordinance.

City Clerk Alan Atkinson explained that while it would not have to go back to the planning committee, it would need to be readvertised which would set a potential public hearing to Feb. 28.

"If you change it, it starts the advertising process over," Atkinson said.

"I just think this is a better chance of us warding off trouble before it happens," Spurlin said.

Waits said he did not want to delay the process anymore.

"I don't think the ones we told to cease and desist have done so anyway, so I don't really think two more weeks will matter," Spurlin said.

Waits suggested proceeding with the ordinance as it was presented to allow owners to begin the licensing process, and then council could return to the ordinance later for any changes.

"I think they are going to find people coming to the area are going to be good neighbors and will appreciate the fact they are getting someone into a house that has sat there vacant and it has been changed into a really nice house," Hubbard said. "We need to just step out and try what we have in place. If there are issues, then we will go back and look at it."

Waits said if the council would let the process begin "the revenue we'll get from that will more than pay for what we might have to pay [on advertising another ordinance change]."

"If we don't have unanimous consent to vote on it Feb. 14, it's going to be delayed two weeks anyway," Spurlin said, implying he would cause that vote not to be unanimous. "We might as well wait and vote for what we want."

Council members proceeded to regular session, not taking up the issue of a Feb. 14 public hearing on the ordinance — effectively delaying any potential action to Feb. 28.

Staff Writer Brian Graves: 256-236-1551.