Updated: Jun 10, 2020
Without a doubt, there has been an increase in the number of STR visitors in units in Mission Beach in the last week. Alleys have been filled by cars parked illegally dropping of luggage, which is bad enough for five minutes, but sometimes cars are left for hours.
As communities throughout North America fight against the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), state, city, and town planners are taking a close look at the ways the short-term rental (STR) industry can either support or undermine efforts to flatten the curve and reduce the loss of life.
With its long incubation period and high infection rate, the novel coronavirus exploits a society’s eagerness to travel and be together. One person who attends a large, out-of-state event may infect hundreds of others before they even begin to show symptoms. In the absence of an effective cure or course of treatment, the best option for containing the spread of the virus has been to enact quarantine and social distancing protocols, including banning non-essential travel.
On April 16, 2012, the White House issued guidelines for reopening the United States in stages, leaving the timing of each stage to each state’s governor. The role of local planners will be crucial in both slowing the spread of COVID-19 and helping a state determine when reopening might begin. Here are some trends planners should be aware of regarding STRs and the coronavirus.
DEFIANCE OF STR BANS
To help facilitate COVID-19 containment efforts, eleven states, two provinces and over 51 municipalities have issued notices restricting short term rental bookings in their jurisdiction to a very narrow category of uses. (An updated list can be found here.) While we have found thousands of reviews on STR platforms in which many guest trips have been canceled or shortened due to COVID-19 restrictions. We have also found evidence that short term rentals are still being rented out to guests in spite of the bans. Some examples include:
San Bernardino County, California: 1,262 active listings
Fort Lauderdale, Florida: 884 active listings
Honolulu County, Hawaii: 1,793 active listings
La Quinta, California: 609 active listings
Placer County, California: 595 active listings
STRS USED TO HOST EVENTS AND ATTENDEES
Despite widespread bans on large gatherings, some residents still endanger themselves and others by going ahead with events. For example, as recently as last March three large weddings in New Jersey had to be broken up by the police because they violated the state’s ban. In the worst-case scenario, a large private gathering can become a super-spreading event, as happened in Westport, Connecticut, when newly-infected party goers dispersed to locations throughout New England and one flight to South Africa. If hotels and STRs are banned from accepting guests, these gatherings would be more difficult to host and many lives could be saved.
THE FLIGHT TO RURAL AREAS AND SECOND HOMES
Some guests are seeking short-term rentals to escape hot spots and self-isolate in remote areas. In doing so, they risk bringing the coronavirus with them if they are non-symptomatic or still in the incubation phase. Their actions jeopardize rural communities, violate stay-home restrictions and threaten to overburden smaller, local health care systems.
As an example, New York City is the current epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, with over 250,000 known infections and nearly 18,000 deaths to date. Many states and municipalities are within a day’s drive from the New York metropolitan area, and they are noticing increased visitors to their area seeking shelter. New Jersey officials have ordered people to stay away from STRs and second homes in the coastal communities, and Rhode Island began stopping drivers with New York license plates. Similar travel bans were enacted by Florida, Texas, and the Mountain West conference as a result of urbanites seeking more remote places to enact social distancing.
There are cases where travelers do wish to comply with orders to return home, but find they are stranded at their rental property. Flight cancelations and border closings may have cut off their chances to return, or they may be concerned about picking up the virus on their travels and bringing it to their families or neighbors. These guests are extending their stays while attempting to quarantine in place responsibly.
SHELTER FOR EMERGENCY PERSONNEL AND THE VULNERABLE
In many cases, STR operators are making a positive impact in the fight against coronavirus. Hotels and STRs are being opened for front-line workers like doctors, nurses, and police officers to allow them to self-isolate from their family members while working to contain the pandemic. Other properties are being offered to the homeless and victims of domestic violence. Many operators are donating these rooms through the Airbnb platform, which offers guidance to hosts on enhanced cleaning instructions, supplies needed by emergency personnel, and advice on contact-free checking-in procedures.
TIPS FOR PLANNERS
Stay current on the laws of your state or province.
Decide if your local area has particular needs that call for additional precautions.
Communicate local ordinances to the STR operators in your area.
Monitor the listings in your area on Airbnb, and other platforms to find non-compliant listings.
The goal of the travel restriction is simple: to maintain physical and social distancing of people to curb the spread of this highly infectious disease and prevent more tragic deaths.
BIBLIOGRAPHY AND RESOURCES
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Resource Page for Health Departments. CDC.gov. (accessed April 17, 2020).
Harmari STR. “COVID-19 and short term rental restrictions and violations.” Harmari.com. (accessed April 13, 2020).
Palmer, Emily. “The Open Road Calls, but Authorities Say ‘Stop’.” NYTimes.com. (accessed April 13, 2020).
Petersen, Anne Helen. “This Pandemic Is Not Your Vacation.” BuzzfeedNews.com. (accessed April 16, 2020).
The White House. “President Donald J. Trump Is Beginning the Next Phase In Our Fight Against Coronavirus: Guidelines for Opening Up America Again.” whitehouse.gov. (accessed April 17, 2020).