Alabama is the heavy favorite to win this year’s college football playoff, with Clemson, Ohio State and Washington looking to unseat the defending champion Crimson Tide. But fans of the challengers can take some solace in knowing the University of Alabama’s hometown of Tuscaloosa is dead last in at least one category — homesharing.
Considering many of the 250-plus NCAA Division One teams attract enough out-of-town fans on football Saturdays to double the hometown populations, embracing the sharing economy seems like a no-brainer to meet fan demand and allow property owners to earn extra cash.
In fact, a homesharing upstart called “Rent Like a Champion,” which started as a student housing service for Notre Dame fans, has grown so much that it currently pairs fans with local homeowners on football weekends in more than 20 college towns across the country.
In Columbus, Ohio, Buckeye fans can rent like a champion — even though the team couldn’t even win half its conference — with the virtual blessing of city regulators. Roomscore 2016, a project of the R Street Institute, graded 59 cities on their short-term rental (STR) rules. And Columbus tops the hometowns of all playoff peers with an A-minus.
Tuscaloosa, on the other hand, has had a short-term rental ban on the books for decades.
This earns the city an “F” according to numbers run by R Street researchers, based on metrics that include legal framework and restrictions, tax collection, licensing requirements and “hostile enforcement” of STR regulations.
It should be noted Tuscaloosa was not included in the original Roomscore 2016 report, but was graded by R Street researchers at the request of Watchdog.org for the purpose of this article.
“The report is intended to provide a snapshot of the wide-ranging STR regulatory environments around the country to highlight the importance of fostering innovation in dynamic new markets,” R Street Executive Andrew Moylan said. “We typically perform an exhaustive analysis to verify data and contextualize before ‘locking in’ a score, but these provisional grades are a great window into the function (or dysfunction) of a city’s regulatory framework. ”
Tuscaloosa city leaders are taking a fresh look at the issue, quarterbacked by council member and Alabama grad Matt Calderone. He says because homesharing already takes place in Tuscaloosa despite rules on the books (listings for the Crimson Tide’s 2017 season are already posted on Rent Like a Champion), it’s time city rules match reality.
“On a home-game weekend, we become one of the largest cities in the state of Alabama. And we become one of the most densely populated places in America,” Calderone told Watchdog.org. “So certainly there’s a demand and it would be impossible for us to build so many hotels to accommodate all those people.”
Calderone is quick to credit more than just football for the growing occupancy demand. He says the recent past has seen an influx of companies such as Mercedes, and a student body that’s doubled in just 12 years, with a majority of students now hailing from other states.
“I think that’s something that’s missed — when you have students that can’t afford or can’t make it home to Oregon or Texas or New York for Christmas or Thanksgiving or even just for a visit,” he said. “I think it’s nice to have options for parents to come in a home environment and visit with their children or just visit the city of Tuscaloosa in general.”
Right now, Calderone and his Administration and Policy Committee are collecting input from hotels, neighborhood communities and downtown groups. He expects a full report in the coming weeks, which he hopes will eventually lead to fair rules for all.
“We want to properly regulate it to keep a healthy economy and have enough protection in there for our neighborhoods and to make sure that we’re benefiting from potentially any lost tax revenues,” Calderone said.
Not making the grade
Coming up with STR rules when there were none before, however, does not guarantee a better grade.
Consider Clemson, S.C., home of Clemson University and college football’s second ranked Tigers.
Like Tuscaloosa, short-term rentals were not legal in Clemson until city leaders approved a new ordinance in June. The measure, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2017, almost exclusively addresses football:
“Unlike other municipalities where both the municipality and the residents may be largely, or even entirely, dependent upon year-round tourism, Clemson experiences an influx of tens of thousands of visitors in connection with an average of seven Clemson University home football games and one spring game each year, and, on a somewhat smaller scale, for University graduation ceremonies. Thus, tailoring the short-term residential rental ordinance to meet the specific and unique needs of the community appears both necessary and proper.”
Clemson is also not on R Street’s list, but the new requirements are onerous enough to earn the city an “F,” according to a provisional score by R-Street analysts — as low as cities that ban short-term rentals altogether.
Among the provisions that deduct points from STR friendliness in Clemson: limiting dwellings to just 25 days per year for STR use; ongoing compliance inspections; and occupancy caps per dwelling of no more than two per bedroom and ten total.
In addition, “non-owner-occupied” STRs are not allowed to rent to more than two unrelated occupants at a time. Which could put a damper on a group of people related only by their wish to attend a football game.
In the meantime, R Street awarded Seattle a B+, which is good news for fans the University of Washington, the number four ranked football playoff team.
But fans heading to Atlanta to see the Huskies play Alabama on New Year’s Eve will find themselves in another “F” city. As with Tuscaloosa, STRs in Atlanta, along with Denver and Oklahoma City, are effectively illegal, earning failing grades from R Street.
Tampa, Fla., also does not appear on R Street’s list, but the site of the National Championship game on Jan. 9 is preparing for what city leaders expect to be one of its busiest weekends in history. STR powerhouse Airbnb has already informed the mayor’s office that more than 500 Airbnb hosts are on standby for college football fans. And Airdna, a research firm specializing in Airbnb data throughout the US and worldwide, has 549 active hosts listed on its market report website.
While city code does not define or specifically regulate STRs, Hillsborough County, where Tampa is located, wants its share of homesharing loot. Local reports say the county tax collector’s office and Airbnb are close to an agreement that would require the latter to collect taxes on each night booked through its website.
Biting the hand that feeds them
As it turns out, the shining spot for the college football playoffs is Glendale, Ariz., where Ohio State faces Clemson in the New Year’s Eve semifinal game.
For starters, Arizona is home to a first-in-the-nation state law called the “Home-Sharing Act.” The measure, enacted in May, prohibits local governments from banning STRs while allowing them to enforce local nuisance rules and prove need for any new regulations. The law also reforms the tax structure to keep it simple and fair for all parties.
For this reason, R Street awarded Glendale an “A.”
Christina Sandefur, executive vice president of the free-market Goldwater Institute in Arizona, wrote the model bill for the Home Sharing Act.
She says college football crowds are prime examples of why local governments should not turn homeowners into criminals for simply wanting to profit from an in-demand service.
“Cities shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds them!” Sandefur tells Watchdog.org. “Instead, they should embrace innovations that allow property owners to share their homes with travelers – it’s extra money for homeowners, greater – and often less expensive – options for travelers, and beneficial for local communities.”
Sandefur says plans are in the works to replicate the Arizona Home-Sharing Act in other states, including Tennessee, where the Beacon Legal Foundation recently won a lawsuit over Nashville’s homesharing cap.
“We have better opportunities in states where cities have banned or severely restricted homesharing, but nothing has been done on a statewide level,” she said.
R Street scholars agree smart regulation is possible.
“With simple rules in place, regulators can protect the public interest and ensure that competition happens in the open marketplace, not in the back rooms of city councils or state legislatures,” their report concludes.
In Tuscaloosa, a place that welcomes competition on the football field, city leaders are taking a different approach with short-term rentals — less emphasis on winners and losers, and more on conciliation.
“We like our historic neighborhoods. We like having families like myself all the way to retired folks to professors in there. I think that’s part of the character of towns. Finding that balance is something we’re cognizant of,” Calderone said. “At the end of the day, I do see us moving in a direction of a regulated activity.”
As Tide coach Nick Saban might say, it’s a process.