Of every 10 Cornelius properties, nine are in a neighborhood governed by a homeowners association (HOA).
Front of mind right now are discussions heating up about whether—and how—short-term rentals should be allowed to operate within town limits. Why all the fuss? Two reasons. First, set to expire this year is a North Carolina law enacted seven years ago to let the town ban short-term rentals. Second is Mecklenburg County’s growing popularity with travelers.
The Demand Is Apparent
Cornelius neighborhoods, in particular, are popular with parents visiting children who attend Davidson College, out-of-town business professionals meeting with Ingersoll Rand and Lowe’s, newcomers “trying out” neighborhoods before they commit, families needing overflow bedrooms when relatives visit, and people fishing and boating on Lake Norman. To that list we eventually will be able to add theatre goers attending performances at the new Cain Center for the Arts. Over the years, I’ve talked with a number of short-term rental operators with properties in Cornelius neighborhoods. Most say they had checked their neighborhood rules before posting their ads on Airbnb. None of them imagined they could be breaking a town and state law.
For years there was an active Airbnb rental across the street from where I live in a non-HOA neighborhood near the Lake Norman YMCA. If I happened to be nearby when a new set of renters pulled up, I’d take a moment to chat. Why this neighborhood, I always found myself asking, and why this rental house—described in guest reviews as “clean but outdated.” Their answers were always the same: “There’s a kitchen for cooking,” or “I like to travel with my dog,” or “it’s quieter and has more room than a hotel.” That neighbor made a good chunk of rental income, and because Airbnb asks visitors booking through their site to leave a review, he took extra care to maintain the yard, and to keep the house welcoming and in good repair.
Then that Airbnb rental owner was warned that he was breaking Cornelius rules and might be fined if his rental didn’t stop doing business. He took a break from those short-term stays and instead leased the house to a few college students. The grass grew long, leaves and sticks piled up, and the quiet comings and goings of short-term visitors were replaced by occasional blasts of heavy rock music and cars parked on the lawn.
Yes, There Were Problems
To be sure, there certainly exist short-term rental horror stories of big parties growing uncontrollably wild, renters throwing beer cans and trash on neighbors’ lawns, and the Lake Norman party house that in 2014 spurred Cornelius officials to ask NC Sen. Jeff Tarte for state-level help with a law enacted for only the town.
But those stories are the exceptions, and not the norm. In a discussion about short-term rentals last year, deputy town manager Wayne Herron told the town’s Land Development Code Advisory Board that in recent years no neighbors had called the police about short-term rentals causing problems. And the neighbors in some communities, he said, have even asked the town to let the short-term rentals continue because they’re so enjoyable to live next to.
Those short-term rental homes also bring tax dollars directly to the Cornelius coffers. In 2018, Cornelius’ portion of collected Airbnb rental taxes added up to about $82,000. And unlike sales taxes, occupancy tax revenue stays entirely at the local level. Getting back to the point of this piece, if decisions about short-term rentals are allowed to happen at the neighborhood level, property owners and the neighborhood boards they elected can decide what is — and isn’t — right for their community.
Let HOAs Decide
So, please, commissioners, push the handling of all rentals decisions onto the shoulders of the HOA boards already making other property-rights decisions, like what color I can paint my door, what I can plant, and how I must keep my trash cans stored. If Cornelius enacts a single town-wide law, not only will we lose thousands of dollars of easy revenue, the friendly travelers who want to experience the many sides of our wonderful community will find few places to stay.
Written By Lore Postman Schneider
Originally Published By Cornelius Today