How to Find Your Local Regulations and Tax Information
It’s important to find the rules regulating short-term rentals in your area and make sure your rental is in compliance.
If your city is currently engaged in debate over short-term rental regulations or has been in the recent past, chances are a simple Google search will pull up stories that help explain the regulations in your area.
Sometimes Googling your town with “short-term rental regulation” doesn’t do the trick. Here are some tips that may help you zero in on your local regulation:
- On your local city council or government website, track down which department or committee has jurisdiction over city zoning plans (i.e., Planning or zoning commission, the city council)
- Look up the town code, which may be housed on the relevant commission’s website
- Using search tools within the document, try to find phrases like “short term rental” or “vacation rental” in the text
- If searching the city code online doesn’t work, locate the committee’s contact information and reach out over the phone or email to inquire about local regulations
How to Find Potential Allies and Leverage Their Support
Whether it’s an elected official, a community leader or a local government employee, someone with some existing community clout can help elevate your cause.
Where can we find potential allies?
You’ve already rounded up a group of local people who either operate or enjoy short-term rentals. Now it’s time to think about other local residents who benefit from short-term rentals. There are some obvious places to look:
- Local economic development authority, chamber of commerce or tourism board
- Businesses that cater to out-of-town visitors – tour operators, bike and car rental companies, restaurants, gift shops
- Businesses that service short-term rentals – house cleaning and landscaping services
But there might be allies in some less obvious places. For example, you might consider reaching out to:
- Local hospitals or patient advocacy groups – many patients and their families prefer to stay in short-term rentals when they have to travel away from home for an extended hospital stay or medical treatment
- Wedding planners – particularly if you live in a “destination wedding” hotspot, many brides and grooms like to offer their out-of-town guests the option of staying in a rental property for the wedding weekend
- Local businesses that frequently employ out-of-town consultants or workers who prefer short-term rentals for lodging when they’re in town; for example, production companies often rent short-term rentals for actors and crew members in town for a filming
What should we ask them to do?
There are plenty of ways they can help. First of all, they can provide you with a testimonial voicing their support (see Testimonials Template). Other things allies can do:
- Share information with their social and professional networks
- Send a letter to local policymakers
- Testify at public meetings
- Attend meetings with policymakers and their staff
- Talk to the press
- Sign a letter to the editor
- Write an editorial
How to Deliver Your Message and Materials to Local Officials
How to Deliver Your Message and Materials to Local Officials
Local officials need to hear from people like you: the short-term rental operators, renters and supporters in their communities. Personal outreach puts a name and a face on the issue and reiterates that these issues directly affect their constituents and neighbors. Remind policymakers that if they are able to strike the right balance, short-term rental regulations can benefit all stakeholders.
Who do we really need to talk to?
The first step toward success if figuring out where the local conversation about short-term rental regulation is currently taking place and who needs to take action in order to make your policy goals a reality. In many cases, there are two groups:
- THE DECIDERS: Usually, you’re talking about individuals on the City or Town Council, the Mayor or County Commissioner and local planning board members who will actually vote or rule on the issue; and
- THE INFLUENCERS: The local business and community group leaders whose opinions matter most to decision-makers.
What’s the best way to keep track of everything?
Make a detailed contact list (spreadsheets are your friend). Try to capture:
- Each official’s name, title, phone number, email and address (this information will likely be available on your local government website)
- Names and contact information for key members of their staff
- Names and contact information for key local business and community leaders, who may have reason to support short-term rentals
- An assigned relationship “owner” – someone within your network who already has or can work to establish a strong relationship with this official and serve as the primary point of contact
- Date of last outreach and any feedback or follow-up items from that meeting
We’ve even put together a handy template to get you started. Outreach Tracker. TIP: Staff members often make a lot of the decisions in local government. Don’t underestimate the importance of getting to know them, in addition to local elected officials.
How do we get a meeting?
The simple answer is you should call or email and ask for one! Explain upfront how you and your group can add value to the deliberations and discussion. Aim for a face-to-face meeting, rather than a phone call. And try to bring a group that represents the wide range of local stakeholders who support short-term rentals. Be friendly, but persistent – remember that before you can persuade the official, you’ll need to persuade their staffer that the call is worth taking. If you’re unable to land a one-on-one meeting, look for other opportunities to get in front of policymakers:
- Existing meetings: For example, most City Councils post their meeting schedules online and provide opportunities for citizens to present concerns;
- Social engagements: Does the chair of the local planning board belong to the Rotary Club? If so, you should have someone casually mention the issue to him at the next club meeting to make sure it’s on his radar.
How do we make sure they understand our point of view?
PRACTICE. Seriously. Even the best communicators practice. Don’t make the mistake of going into a meeting without rehearsing your key messages. Know what you absolutely need to communicate and ask for before the meeting ends. Other keys to a successful meeting:
- Arrive early and be courteous.
- Tailor your message to the person you are meeting with – offer reasons why they, especially, should support short-term rentals.
- Focus on specific, constructive policy goals (e.g., we want to see this definition changed, we think registration fees should be lower) and explain why these changes are important to making short-term rentals work in your community.
- Bring it back to tangible benefits to individuals within the community whenever possible – officials need to understand this issue matters to voters.
- Leave behind your contact information, and printouts of your letter, fact sheet and other relevant materials.
- Finish the meeting with another thank you and offer to follow up on any outstanding questions.
What if an official already supports short-term rentals?
It’s even more important to stay in close contact with policymaker supporters. Arm them with a consistent stream of new information and facts that demonstrate how short-term rentals are benefiting the local community and communities across the country. And offer to help them make the case for fair and reasonable regulation any way you can, by appearing at public meetings, joining local government working groups or talking to the press.
How to Write a Great Op-Ed
Here are some pointers on how to structure a great op-ed and get it published in your local paper.
Writing a great piece
Using “Quebec should work with short-term renters, not scare them away” as a template, here are some thoughts with the related text from this piece.
- Lead your story by defining the issue and presenting your take on the policy approach.
With the Quebec government investigating 2,000 people for renting their properties on a short-term basis – often reportedly resorting to making fake requests – it begs the question: Is this the best and most constructive use of government resources?
- Then delve into the policy issues. One to two paragraphs should suffice.
- Pivot to an alternative approach; use good data to make your point.
A more balanced and less punitive approach is needed given the clear economic benefits short-rentals bring to Quebec.Recent statistics show Quebec City’s tourism economy is booming with activity rising 8.8 per cent in March, 2013, compared to March, 2012. Traditional lodging options, despite allegations that short-term rentals are siphoning business, experienced a 5.8 per cent increase in occupancy rates in Quebec City in March compared to a year ago.
- Reinforce that position and close strongly.
Given the importance of short-term rentals to consumers and the local economy, why would government officials seek to go after residents participating in short-term rentals? We believe that fair and appropriate regulations increase compliance, create economic benefits for cities in additional tax revenues and protect the interests of neighborhoods. Wouldn’t that be a more productive goal?
- Review and make sure all of your key messages are included.
Submitting Your Story
- Fact check your story; link to all facts mentioned.
- Proofread your work.
- Check the paper’s editorial guidelines. Typically, op-eds need to be less than 650 words.
- Check the masthead and send to the right editors.
- Follow-up with them about your submission.