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How to Gather Community Feedback for an Effective Short-Term Rental Program

As the short-term rental market continues to grow, communities are working to create policies that ensure disparate groups within the industry are considered.

Hotel owners struggle with the competitive pricing options and inconsistent regulations and neighbors in residential areas express frequent concerns about “party houses.” Meanwhile, many hosts depend on the rental income for their livelihood and local economies thrive on the millions spent by STR guests each year.

The STR debate has many sides, and when it comes to policies, each side wants its voice heard—usually in public meetings where decisions are made. It’s up to local officials to properly gather feedback from the whole community and establish ordinances that take every opinion into account. “People with the most extreme positions are usually the loudest ones at these meetings,” said Jeffrey Goodman, planning consultant at Granicus, in a recent webinar. “But the answer is always somewhere in between.”

The development of a successful STR ordinance (or update) isn’t something that happens quickly behind closed doors, or at the behest of the loudest meeting-goers. Instead, a successful ordinance demonstrates the attentiveness of government officials who have listened to feedback from their constituents and are working to reflect the broader goals of the community.

Setting the Stage for a Productive Conversation

Feedback is a crucial part of the planning process. It gives officials a closer look at the wants and needs of their community. And while open discussions give more people a chance to voice their concerns, they also allow decision-makers to create a dialogue about how decisions are made. Pulling back the curtain of an STR program leads to greater buy-in from the community. “The goal of the ordinance process is to make sure everyone understands why you made the choices that you did,” said Goodman. “They can agree or disagree with your decision, but at the end of the meeting, it should at least be clear what you’re trying to achieve.”

STR debates are usually rooted in deeper issues that tap into people’s sense of belonging and community. Socioeconomic factors such as a housing crisis or neighborhood character can easily appear at the center of a STR discussion. Without an open forum for feedback, these nuances wouldn’t get the attention they deserve, which would result in STR ordinances that fail to address the community’s broader goals.

“You need a “north star” to guide the way you conduct a planning meeting and make your choices. That north star has to be bigger than just STRs as a singular issue,” said Goodman.If a community is in a quiet suburb, the north star might be a desire to create an ideal environment for families to raise their children over a long period of time. In a college town with more resident turnover, the top priorities might be socializing and cost savings. Whatever the case may be, broader community goals should drive any STR ordinance. By bringing this “northstar-first” mindset to every meeting, local officials can set the tone for an impactful discussion and ultimately create a more effective STR program.

Ensuring the Right Voices Are Heard and the Wrong Ones Don’t Overshadow Them.

STR ordinances impact all members of the community in different ways, so it’s important to make sure the following interest groups are always in attendance:

  • Neighborhood = Organized neighborhood groups, individual homeowners, renters, housing advocacy groups, etc.
  • Government = Code enforcement personnel, planning and zoning officials, police officers, tax assessors, etc.
  • Lodging = Realtors, lodging providers, tourism board members, STR host groups, individual hosts, etc.

With so many different types of stakeholders present, be sure to anticipate distractions and keep the debate on-track and focused on serving the community’s “north star” interests. “Most people there want to follow the rules and make life better for their neighbors, but there’s always a handful who will use this as a forum to talk about personal grievances and issues that aren’t relevant or feasible,” said Goodman.

To sift through all the noise and identify valid feedback from STR hosts in particular, simply check their credentials and make sure they are registered, code compliant, and (for rental associations) legally organized. “Hosts need to respect the rules as much as they respect the community,” said Julie Davies, accredited course educator and STR host. “They’re a part of the neighborhood, not just an isolated commercial establishment. The ones who understand that deserve to have their opinions heard.”

Creating Space for Ongoing Communication and Education

The conversation doesn’t stop when the meeting is adjourned. Some members of the community might want access to the decision-making process at a later date, which is why local agencies are turning to online resources that encourage open communication about policies and ordinances. “Lots of people tend to just sit in the back of meetings and quietly take everything in,” said Meghan Ruble, head of client services at Bang the Table, an engagement platform. “Sometimes, a key stakeholder isn’t even able to attend. You need a space for the STR discourse to live on, where the community can keep learning, share feedback, and watch the conversation evolve over time.”

Providing an online forum for further conversation allows people to keep a pulse on STR-related decisions in their community and gauge how they’re affecting their neighbors. Local governments can provide an up-to-date list of definitions and educational resources for people to reference, then use a forum page to chat directly with the community. “Having all this information, education, and feedback in one place shows more people what their community leaders are doing to help them,” said Ruble. “It puts transparency into the process, lays everything out in the open, and proves that, yes, the work is actually happening.”

Feedback and transparency are at the core of every successful STR ordinance. Everything from the earliest planning stages, to town meetings and online educational resources, should serve the broader needs of the community. By welcoming all the right voices and keeping an open dialogue about STR regulations, community leaders can create not only a successful STR program, but a harmonious one.

For a complimentary assessment of the short-term vacation rental market in your community, including local listing counts, type of STR units, and more, click here.