As a lot of you know, Nick and I moved to Columbus, OH from NYC last summer, August 28th, 2017. We have big dreams of buying lots of property, renovating old homes, and turning them into both long- and short-term rentals.
Sharing our work and homes with as many people as we can is a passion of ours.
In Spring of 2018, the Columbus city legislature introduced a bill that calls for ineffective short-term rental regulations operated by non-homeowner occupied homes. Below you’ll find my heartfelt testimony that I delivered in person at the final council meeting (there were two -I went to the first one but just observed) on the topic of Columbus, Ohio’s proposed short-term rental regulations:
Columbus, OH? Really?
On April 25, 2018, the New York Post wrote an article titled, “New Yorkers are Flocking to this MidWest Sanctuary.” According to this article, 2,000 New Yorkers and neighbors in the tri-state area moved to Columbus, Ohio in 2014 alone.
Millennials, entrepreneurs, and families call Columbus a test city for entrepreneurs.
Money magazine named it one of the six best big cities.
Columbus is ranked number eight for “real estate markets on the move.”
My name is Sarah Karakaian. My husband Nick and I are among a new crew of New Yorkers who moved to Columbus and call it home. We actually met during college at Kent State University, but quickly moved to NYC in search of culture, diversity, and innovation. However, we couldn’t ignore the hype: Ohio is changing. Columbus is thriving.
We moved here last year almost a year ago. Since that time, we’ve purchased a fourplex in Grandview Heights and a cottage in Schumacher Place.
And man, do you guys have a ton of multifamily properties! I’m talking six or fewer apartments under one roof. It’s apparent that Columbus depends on small family investors to purchase these multi-family homes, care for them, and open their doors to residents and visitors.
In our short time here, we’ve already teamed up with local makers, craftsmen, and designers to transform these properties and showcase all the local, incredibly talented professionals.
Let’s Back Up
Our career in NYC was epic. Nick worked at Google designing ball pits and nap pods. I spent a majority of my time performing in hit Broadway musicals on national tours and various productions in the city.
In 2014 we decided to follow our passion for real estate, and our talents were even showcased on eight episodes of an HGTV show!
We’re movers and shakers. We have big plans. And we decided that Columbus was the place to unfold our next chapter.
We’re also responsible, caring, and enthusiastic Airbnb hosts. We manage two listings (our hope is to cap out at 3) while balancing the rest of our portfolio with affordable, safe, and updated long-term rentals.
Here is Why Short-Term Rentals Are Here to Stay
Travelers want options
Fun fact: 30% of our guests are people who are moving to Columbus. Thirty percent!
Not only are they choosing to come to Columbus, they’re also choosing to stay in an Airbnb. To weave themselves into neighborhoods. To submerge in our way of life. They’re excited to learn how we really live here in Columbus. And they want their own room, their own kitchen, and the privacy of a non-homeowner occupied space.
Students need options
Another major category of guests are students looking for a quiet place to stay so they can work on research or focus on a bit test coming up. Other students need short-term leases with spaces that are furnished. This summer, we are hosting two students who tried to find landlords with affordable furnished spaces to accommodate their summer schedule to no avail. So they turned to Airbnb.
Options for the Health Care Community and Their Patients
Many Airbnb hosts at the first meeting spoke to the majority of who their guests are. Story after story were guests who had children receiving treatment at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in downtown Columbus. There are accommodations for these families, but they’re often booked.
Let’s Talk About This Proposed Bill
The bill you’re proposing says its “aim is to balance the well-being and interests of City residents and visitors while still allowing short-term rentals to operate and become a piece of the economic and tourism fabric in Columbus.” Read the summary here and the complete bill here.
We were disappointed to learn that this bill poses unfair short-term rental regulations and will also essentially ban non-homeowner occupied Airbnb listings, like ours, with the 104-day limit.
Why Would 104 Days Essentially Ban Airbnbs?
104 days means a non-homeowner occupied property can be listed on any short-term rental platform every weekend of the year. In most cases, 104 days a year is not enough income to keep a short-term rental afloat.
As we learned at the last meeting, .02% of Columbus’ housing market are Airbnbs. I do not believe the well-being and interests of City residents and visitors are unbalanced. Even if Airbnbs multiply by 1000 that’s still less than 1% of our housing inventory.
In fact, when Airbnbs are run by responsible hosts, we very much add to the well-being of residents and visitors.
We furnish our Airbnbs with furniture found at The Carpenter’s Daughter, One More Time, Etc, and Fresco Furnishings — amazing consignment stores located on 5th Avenue in Grandview Heights. We employ a small, woman-owned cleaning service that meticulously folds our towels and makes our beds, just like you’d find in a hotel….or in my opinion, even better. Our art features local makers. You can find every artists business card in our Welcome Packet that we leave for guests. Some hosts offer gift certificates to local coffee shops and restaurants.
Who We Are Not
Columbus is not New York City, it’s not San Francisco or Seattle or New Orleans. But it is a growing city.
Did you know that The Midwest is home to 150 Fortune 500 companies, 25% of all US computer science graduates, and 60% of the country’s manufacturing base? It’s a large market (comprising 19% of America’s GDP) and is full of innovation (home to 19% of all US patents).
Columbus is in the running for Amazon’s new headquarters.
It’s attracting new talent, so we can keep jobs here. New talent that demands options. New talent that makes up 30% of our Airbnb guests alone.
Who We Could Be
Columbus deserves its own set of Airbnb regulations. I do not believe copying other cities’ regulations will help us here.
- We agree with licensing. Your proposed licensing will weed out the hosts that give a family like mine a bad name.
- We will absolutely pay fair taxes! Hospitality taxes will help with Columbus’ growing pains.
- Let’s put more money into affordable housing development and address the actual reason for the apparent housing shortage. I do want to reiterate that the housing shortage and Columbus’ Airbnb listings do not go hand in hand. Trying to conflate the two doesn’t serve anyone’s best interest. They are separate issues, not one caused by Airbnb.
But a ban puts a stop to change. A ban puts a stop to innovation. I wanted to move to a city that does things its own way. Let’s take a new way of living — the sharing economy — and shake out the kinks to help it thrive. So visitors don’t have a hard time finding short-term housing when they visit our city. Be it hotel or short-term rental in a non-homeowner occupied space or in someone’s home, there will always be something for everyone.
That is what Airbnb does for Columbus.
Here is What Airbnb Does For My Little Family
Short-term rental income provides us with extra money each month to put back into our fourplex. We live in one unit, have a long-term tenant in another, and have two Airbnb spaces upstairs. Thanks to the Airbnb, our investment makes sense. The housing market is hot. This fourplex was being run by a slumlord. Plugging in Airbnb figures versus all long-term numbers allowed us to purchase this property, save it from lackluster landlords, and make desperately needed improvements.
We asked our long-term tenant how he feels about the Airbnb listings above him. He said he has no problems whatsoever with new faces, and that he feels safe in his space. He also appreciates the fair rent we’re able to offer him because of the Airbnbs in the complex.
Airbnb allows us to continue our dream of purchasing more Columbus property and restoring it to its former glory. There are too many abandoned homes in desperate need of repair. A housing shortage? Great. We’re happy to help. Thanks to Airbnb we can.
If You Can’t Beat ‘Em…Join ‘Em
Did you know that Hyatt has partnered up with another high-end short-term rental platform called Oasis? That’s right. It’s Home Rentals with Hyatt rewards. Marriott is also exploring its own short-term rentals with local housing. The hotel industry is finally noticing that short-term rentals aren’t going anywhere. And as they say, if you can’t beat ‘em., join ‘em.
What If There Were No VHS Tapes or ATMs?
I’m asking Columbus to be different. To not slap blanket regulations on all Airbnb non-homeowner occupied spaces. Let’s challenge ourselves to lead and set an example for The Midwest and the nation.
Joe Gebbia, the founder of Airbnb, reminded us that we once feared ATMs. We were terrified it would put bankers out of jobs. We were against VHS tapes. Would theatres thrive if we could watch movies at home? But, the world kept turning, innovation didn’t slow down, and Netflix was eventually born. We can resist. Or we can open our arms to change.
You’re Just an Airbnb Host to Earn a Quick Buck
Running a short-term rental is not a way to make a quick buck. With so much competition your space better be epic. You better offer amenities. Your curb appeal better be on point. Most hosts bend over backward to be Superhosts. We pour thousands into our properties in hopes of earning your 5-star review. We install exterior security cameras to protect our investment and the neighborhood. Worried about your neighbors Airbnb getting too noisy? Don’t worry, we’ve got technology that helps with that too.
What’s the Real Reason Behind This Cap?
As a new resident of Columbus, I’m asking you to rethink this 104-day limit. What is the REAL reason behind this limitation? Sitting at the last city council meeting, out of the numerous testimonies supporting Airbnb we had 3 community members speak against it. Two of those speakers were there to complain about the same bad Airbnb host. Their complaints were noise and party related. If we’re only allowed to host 104 days -essentially every weekend- will this cap solve the apparent problem? Is it necessary? Will it do more harm than good?
The mayor’s office mentioned that they’re worried. With so many people moving to Columbus will there be enough housing to accommodate everyone? The mayor’s office claims this cap is meant to restrict the number of homes that can become Airbnbs. But will limiting responsible hosts just add to the demand for housing options and short-term rentals? Will more hosts pop up to meet this demand? Will this just mean more Airbnbs?
What if the city took the taxes it earned from legal Airbnbs and put it into more affordable housing? Let’s build up! Let’s build out! But .02% of our housing is not causing the problem. This city is growing. We’re experiencing growing pains.
Are Investors the Enemy?
Of the few complaints that spoke out at the meetings, many of them shared their disdain for investors. One gentleman was a renter who complained low-income housing is being affected by Airbnb.
Of course, you have your bad apple landlords but several investors spoke up about purchasing properties in up and coming areas. Time and time again they fail to fill their vacancies. Or suffered extensive vandalism. Mixing in Airbnbs with regular long-term tenants allowed them to keep their rents low for their long-term residents while allowing the investor to keep their doors open, to continue to purchase in these areas, and to improve the community.
Many residents in Columbus are frustrated by the high cost of real estate. I, for one, can understand! I thought I was going to move to the MidWest and be able to buy several properties. Things here are competitive and are moving quickly.
But that didn’t stop us from doing what we set out to do. We got creative. We thought outside the box. And we mixed in short-term rentals to our portfolio so we can keep our long-term rentals affordable.
Many investors are trying to be part of the solution.
Come Stay in My Short-Term Rental
If you’ve never experienced a 5-star Superhost Airbnb, please go stay in one. Be one of the three guests I had this month alone who were having a staycation in a different neighborhood. If you don’t understand this — if you’ve never experienced it first hand — have an adventure. Try it out! Talk to the host. Ask questions. Come stay in mine! (That is, if you can pass my screening to ensure you’ll be respectful guests.)
I’m Sarah Karakaian and I believe in capitalism. I’m asking you to nix the 104-day short-term rental limitation. It’s unnecessary and isn’t solving any of the so-called issues that are being brought forth.
All listing photography by Alex and his team at New Horizon Media Group
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