Second rental ordinance worskhop takes place


Mayor John Halia and At-Large Representative Bronwyn Beatty-Hansen listen during a City Council meeting on Jan. 16, 2018.

Chris Anderson

Ames City Council held their second workshop on issues related to the recently passed rental occupancy ordinance.

This workshop was scheduled for March 20 after it became apparent at the first workshop more time would be needed to discuss issues related to the rental ordinance.

The first and most heavily debated issue at the workshop was the question of whether or not the city should impose rental overlay limits and what those limits would look like.

A rental overlay would restrict the city or certain neighborhoods to only have a certain percentage of rental properties over owner occupied homes.

To address this issue, city staff looked at other cities who recently passed rental overlay limits. One such example was Iowa City, which imposed a 30 percent overlay in certain zones.

The South Campus Area Neighborhood Association (SCAN), a vocal group throughout the passage and discussion on the ordinance, brought data to the meeting to present to the council.

The President of SCAN claimed that in a secret ballot at one of their meetings, every member of SCAN present voted in favor of a 20 percent rental cap for their neighborhood.

SCAN stated its goal is to prevent any further decline in the positive attributes in its neighborhood, which it sees through the conversion of owner-occupied homes to rentals.

SCAN also spoke in favor of imposing the overlay by neighborhood rather than block. While some blocks in the South Campus Neighborhood are under the 20 percent limit, some exceed 80 percent of rental properties.

Tony McFarland, speaking on behalf of the Ames Rental Association, spoke against imposing an overlay.

McFarland claimed because the student population in Ames is not growing as fast as it was in the past, the situation will resolve itself through the “free market.” Further, McFarland claimed an overlay would hurt home values by making it impossible for homeowners to sell to rental property owners in neighborhoods over the overlay limit.

Council Member Tim Gartin spoke against this point, saying if the city were to impose an overlay it would essentially give monopoly power to rental owners already in the area. Gartin felt the Ames Rental Association should be arguing in favor of an overlay, not against.

McFarland responded by saying he was “fundamentally opposed” to creating monopolies, and that part of his job is to bring new rental owners into the market.

Ex-Officio member from Student Government, Rob Bingham, asked what a timeline would look like when it comes to converting rentals back into owner-occupied homes in affected areas. Other members of the council and city staff responded by saying they felt it would be a decades long process.

Council Member Gloria Betcher spoke in favor of the council creating incentives to reduce the number of rental properties and to impose the overlay to stabilize the situation.

“I think the goal is to make it so it doesn’t get worse, so you can turnover those rentals over time,” Betcher said.

While some members of council felt they should direct staff to create an ordinance imposing a 25 percent overlay, others like Chris Nelson felt this would just open up a game of “whack-a-mole.”

Nelson worried by limiting rentals in these areas, it would just push student renters to neighborhoods slightly further away from campus which are already close to being 25 percent rentals.

The council also brought up the fact they have essentially only received communication asking for overlays from three out of the eight affected neighborhoods being discussed.

Council Member Amber Corrieri spoke against an overlay for this reason.

She voted against the original moratorium on rental letters of compliance being issued because she felt it went too far not only restricting property rights but affecting neighborhoods they have heard nothing from.

“I don’t think we have enough data on all of the things. We just started to make a decision this important,” Corrieri said.

Ultimately the council passed a motion directing staff to draft an ordinance that will impose a 25 percent overlay in campus affected neighborhoods, neighborhoods near campus with high numbers of rentals.

Corrieri and Nelson were the only two members to vote against this motion.

Because this ordinance would need until May 1 to go through three readings and be adopted, the council also decided to discuss extending the moratorium that will end in April next week.

The council also directed staff to add measures grandfathering in existing rentals who are in violation of the overlay and a temporary hardship alternative to provide temporary rentals to homeowners unable to sell their house in the new ordinance.

After receiving data from the city on the effects of parking regulations in the rental ordinance, the council made a unanimous decision to eliminate parking spots as a measure of occupancy from the ordinance.

Another hotly debated issue at this workshop was further clarifying how to regulate Airbnbs.

While some members of council voiced concerns about the quality of Airbnbs, many Airbnb hosts came to speak about how they have a vested interest in making sure their properties were of a high quality.

Corrieri spoke on the side of these hosts, saying she feels the industry regulates itself through Airbnb’s own regulations and the rating system used on the website.

The city came to council with three different types of standards that could apply to different Airbnbs with different purposes.

Type one is a hosted home share, where a resident could rent out one or two rooms in their house to a guest for a maximum of 30 days. However, they could only rent these rooms a maximum of 90 days out of the year.

Type two is a home share, where the primary resident would still be present but could rent out more bedrooms and have up to five adults. This had similar time restrictions to type one.

Type three is a vacation rental, where the owner would not be present and could rent out their entire house.

The council decided to adopt all three types, making the permits available to AirBnb hosts. However, they decided to get rid of the 30-day maximum for hosted home shares as they felt that was too short for many occupants.

During this meeting, Mayor John Haila again reminded the audience decisions made in this meeting are not set in stone and will be officially adopted at a later meeting after receiving more public input.