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Neighborhood nuisance: The push to cut down online home rentals and ill-mannered occupants

It's no secret that short-term rental websites are growing in popularity, especially in parts of Central Ohio. In fact, Airbnb points to Columbus as one of its fastest-growing markets. (WSYX/WTTE)

It's no secret that short-term rental websites are growing in popularity, especially in parts of Central Ohio. In fact, Airbnb points to Columbus as one of its fastest-growing markets.

In many local communities, these rentals aren't regulated. Homeowners in one Westerville neighborhood reached out to ABC 6/FOX 28 concerned about a property they believe has become a problem.

Paul Lehman said that he loves his small Westerville community. He said the tiny cul-de-sac along Meadcrest Court is the perfect place for families.

"It's kind of a nice, private, secluded quiet, safe neighborhood. You can get a pretty nice house in Westerville for a pretty good price," said Lehman.

For the past few years, he's had no complaints. That is until now with the problem centering on one home.

Lehman told FOX28 the issues started late one night in October of 2017.

"I was in bed, say 10-11 o'clock. I just heard so much commotion going past the bedroom window. Many, many, many people on the sidewalk, vehicles," said Lehman.

He and other neighbors claim a large gathering was taking place at the home a few doors down. Police reports indicate several noise complaints at the home. But Lehman said that was nothing compared to the mess he woke up to.

"The next morning, litter, trash on so many properties up and down the street. I personally had to sweep up glass from broken wine bottles in the driveway, empty beer cans, and a sports bra," said Lehman.

Other neighbors said that event in October was not the only one there. They did a bit of digging and discovered the home was listed on Airbnb as an event space. The homeowner charging $500 dollars for overnight group stays.

"A little bit of seemingly disregard, disrespect for the neighbors' rights to privacy, safety, security," Lehman said.

ABC 6/FOX 28 attempted a number of times to locate the homeowner, with no response. Regardless, homeowners who live in the area don't have many rights in this instance. The city of Westerville has no clear rules against a homeowner renting their home out. The homeowners association in the neighborhood has no set standard forbidding it either.

Issues like this one are part of the reason the city of Columbus is now considering putting regulations in place. Columbus city councilman Michael Stinziano is spearheading the research.

"We've worked very hard to have all opinions at the table. We're hoping within the next two months to have real public hearings, and so legislation should be forthcoming," said Stinziano.

At this point, Stinziano said that the talk does not involve banning short-term rentals. Instead, those considering changes want to put sensible rules in place that would address any community concerns.

"Very open to feedback, if there's anyone, positive, negative experiences, that's what we're looking for. That's why we've had a very thorough, transparent process," Stinziano said.

Zach James is one of the founding members of the Columbus Hosts Alliance. The group represents homeowners who rent through sites like Airbnb, Couchsurfing, and Homeaway, just to name a few. The group is also helping provide input as the city council examines this issue. James said that he understands concerns and said some regulations could benefit everyone involved.

"We're organized and we want to be responsible in our hosting and we want to be compliant with any regulations that are set forth. In most cases, hosting properties are well maintained and regularly checked on, which is not even the case in a traditional more long-term rental," said James.

ABC 6/FOX 28 studied the issue and found that not many local communities have any rules in play regarding these rentals. For example, administrators with Grandview Heights said they have no rules on the books. However, the city of Worthington prohibits rentals like Airbnb. Under city code, it's listed as a "tourist home." But they are one of the only local communities addressing this issue.

As for the home in Westerville, after ABC 6/FOX 28 started looking into the issue, we discovered the listing was removed from the Airbnb site. Lehman said he understands a property owner has certain rights, but he believes that the concerns of neighbors should be taken into consideration as well..

"Yes, people need money, you, I, everybody else, but I think this might be going a bit far in terms of trampling on their neighbors' rights," said Lehman.

It's a discussion and a fight that is no doubt beginning to stir in plenty of communities. Homeowners can address these issues through their homeowners, association. But experts said that everyone in the community has to be willing to abide by the rules and neighbors with concerns may have to be willing to take their fight to court.

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