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Short-term rentals in Buncombe County: Frequently Asked Questions

A photo from an Airbnb listing in Buncombe County.
A photo from an Airbnb listing in Buncombe County.

The Buncombe County Planning Board will soon decide whether to recommend the tightening of restrictions on short-term rentals on websites such as Airbnb and VRBO. The issue has been hotly debated by members of the public: listening sessions over the past few months have attracted hundreds of attendees.

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions on the topic.

What’s a short-term rental?

The term “short-term rental” refers to any residential lodging rental that lasts for less than 30 days. Short-term rentals are also sometimes known as STRs or vacation rentals. Companies such as Airbnb and VRBO provide platforms for short-term rentals.

A short-term rental can be of an entire home or of just one or two bedrooms. If the short-term rental is limited to just one or two bedrooms and the owner lives in the home full-time, it is called a “homestay.” Some cities (including Asheville) give homestays fewer restrictions than other short-term rentals.

How many short-term rentals are there currently in Buncombe County? How much growth has there been in recent years?

There were 5,268 short-term rentals in Buncombe County in 2022, accounting for about 4.5% of the county’s total housing stock, according to AirDNA data provided by the Buncombe County Planning Board.

Short-term rentals in Asheville account for about 20% of that number, or a little more than 1,000 units.

The short-term rental market has seen explosive growth in Buncombe County over the last several years. According to the Asheville Citizen Times, short-term rental sales grew from $18.7 million in 2016 to $229 million in 2022, an increase of more than 1,000%.

What are the current restrictions on short-term rentals in Buncombe County?

The Buncombe County government has control over short-term rental regulations only in unincorporated parts of the county — meaning that the rules don’t apply to the City of Asheville or other municipalities.

A map of incorporated areas of Buncombe County.
Buncombe County Open Data Explorer
A map of incorporated areas of Buncombe County.

Currently, Buncombe County allows short-term rentals in most parts of the county except for an area near Asheville Regional Airport. Short-term rentals are limited to a floor area of 9,000 square feet.

There are different rules for vacation rental complexes and travel trailers — see this guide from the Buncombe County government for more.

What are the current restrictions in Asheville?

In Asheville, short-term rentals of an entire home have been tightly limited since 2018, when the City Council approved new restrictions on a 6-1 vote amid mounting concern over the city’s affordable housing supply. The restrictions prohibit short-term rentals of an entire home in most parts of the city except for the resort zoning district.

“Homestays” are allowed. Those interested in applying for a permit can find more information here.

Property owners who violate Asheville’s regulations may receive a notice of violation followed by a daily $500 fine and potential legal action by the city.

According to the Asheville Planning and Economic Development Committee, as of November 2023, there were 861 homestays and 176 short-term rentals registered with the city.

Why is the Buncombe County Commission considering new restrictions?

The county commission began considering new short-term rental restrictions in response to public feedback it received last year as part of its Comprehensive Plan, its blueprint for the county’s growth over the next 20 years.

“A key directive from that process was to mitigate the loss of year-round housing to short-term rentals,” the county says on its website outlining the proposed changes. The main goal of the restrictions, it says, is to “create more long-term rental and owner-occupied housing opportunities.”

What are the proposed restrictions?

The proposed Buncombe County restrictions would allow new short-term rentals only in certain districts. They would lower the total permitted square-footage of each short-term rental and would prohibit such rentals in manufactured home parks and affordable housing developments.

The proposed rules would also only allow short-term rentals in single-family detached units, and they would create special requirements for matters such as parking and waste disposal.

Residents attend a listening session held by the Buncombe County Planning Board on Jan. 22, 2024.
Buncombe County Planning Board
Residents attend a listening session held by the Buncombe County Planning Board on Jan. 22, 2024.

Importantly, the restrictions would apply only to new short-term rentals. Owners of existing short-term rentals could apply for a zoning permit that would allow them to be grandfathered into the new rules.

What have been the reactions among local residents?

The proposed restrictions have prompted a flood of public comment. The Buncombe County Planning Board’s December meeting saw the highest number of attendees in recent memory, one member said, prompting the board to hold a special listening session in January where residents shared at-times emotional and personal testimony on the issues.

A second listening session was held in March.

Some attendees voiced strong opposition to the proposed restrictions, arguing that short-term rentals have little impact on housing prices or availability and that such rentals provide an economic lifeline to homeowners during tough times.

Others said that short-term rentals had contributed to the dearth of affordable housing in Buncombe County, both for individuals purchasing a new home and senior citizens living on a fixed income. In some cases, residents said short-term rentals had served to “fragment” their neighborhood or had even driven them out of their own homes.

In response to feedback from the public, the Planning Board has made changes to some of the language in the proposed regulations. The latest version of the text can be found here.

A draft infographic of the proposed regulations prepared by the planning board can be found here and below.

A draft infographic provided by the Buncombe County Planning Board in April 2024 describing its proposed regulations for new short-term rentals.
Buncombe County Planning Board
A draft infographic provided by the Buncombe County Planning Board in April 2024 describing its proposed regulations for new short-term rentals.

How and when will the County Commission decide?

The Buncombe County Planning Board will vote Monday, April 22, on whether to recommend the proposal to the Buncombe County Commission.

The next step would then be up to the County Commission.

“They can either abide by what we say, or they can totally disregard it; they have that choice as well,” Buncombe County Planning Board Chair Nancy Waldrop said at the board’s Dec. 18 meeting. “So even if we decide one thing, they can decide something totally different. And that’s by state law.”

This story originally published Jan. 31, 2024. It was updated to include the latest developments.

Felicia Sonmez is a reporter covering growth and development for Blue Ridge Public Radio.