The town’s most bizarre political marriage of convenience has risen again.

In an email to Town Council Thursday, the Chamber for a Greater Chapel Hill-Carrboro, joined by CHALT (!), heads of three hotel chains including the managing director of The Siena Hotel, and former mayor Rosemary Waldorf, begged the town to enforce the new short-term rental ordinance.

If you’ll recall, in 2019 this motley crew organized and convinced the town to start-up a short-term rental task force to address the scourge of short-term rentals throughout Chapel Hill. Their first meeting? Held at The Siena Hotel.

At the time, neighborhoods throughout Chapel Hill received an anonymous postcard bankrolled by a hotel executive with some really scary language about short-term rentals, which you can see below.


In any event, in 2021 the Town adopted an ordinance regulating short-term rentals and it went into effect December 23, 2022. The ordinance basically does three things. First, “dedicated short-term rentals” — those where the owner doesn’t live in the house for more than half the year — are banned in most residential neighborhoods. Second, “primary residence short-term rentals” where the house is occupied most of the year — basically, STRs where a room or two or a backyard cottage are rented out — are allowed most everywhere. Third, there are new regulations that apply to all STR operators, regarding payment of taxes, maximum occupancy rules, and minimum parking standards.

Apparently, though, enforcement has been slow.

The Chamber and friends write: “There is an astounding number of Dedicated STRs still operating within the Town of Chapel Hill limits in direct violation of the STR ordinance passed nearly two years ago. According to the Town of Chapel Hill Land Use Management Ordinance and review from the UNC School of Government, these zoning violations are a misdemeanor and subject to zoning violation enforcement policies.”

To help out the Town in its enforcement efforts, the Chamber and friends provided a spreadsheet with data from a company called AirDNA, which collects data on short-term rentals, and placed the data onto Google Maps to make it easier for the Town.

We took a look and immediately started laughing. Did anyone look at this before sending it out?

First, the map doesn’t differentiate between whole houses and backyard cottages, so many of the pins may represent STRs that exist legally.

Second, the map appears to include many addresses to places that aren’t even houses. A cemetery. Some churches. Even Harris Teeter

We’ve gone and have identified some of the hot spots for Chapel Hill’s short-term rental industry, based on the map submitted to the town on March 2, 2023. The purple pins mark the short-term rentals, as identified by CHALT and friends.

Spend a romantic evening at the gas station next to the Chapel Hill Public Library
You can check in to this AirBnB located between graves in the cemetery, but you can never leave….
It looks like Binkley Baptist Church teamed up with Harris Teeter to operate a short-term rental empire in University Place.
Someone tell the Carolina Inn someone is operating an illegal STR in their hotel.
This one comes with a potluck, if you’re there on Sundays….
It’s a little noisy in the median of NC 54, but you can’t argue against the convenience to downtown Carrboro. Let’s hope there’s a hot tub!
Better act fast, the rentals at UNC’s Ambulatory Care Center book up quickly.
No better place to spend a romantic evening than a public middle school.
This is presumably a tent next to the Fan Branch Trail in Southern Village?
Apparently, Christ United Methodist Church is running an illegal AirBNB or VRBO.

To be clear, we at TBB have nothing against well-thought-out regulations on short-term rentals. There is some evidence in other larger markets like Los Angeles and Boston that they can affect rental housing affordability. There are also localities that use tax revenue generated from STRs to help fund affordable housing.

But we must chuckle at the pairing of the Chamber, CHALT, three hotels, and a former mayor in this effort to restrict short-term rentals. And that many of the short term rentals they’ve identified seem not-so-much like rentals at all.

Stephen Whitlow and Melody Kramer helped with photo captions.

In the last municipal election cycle, we helped increase turnout by over 20 percent. We're all volunteers who care deeply about Chapel Hill and Carrboro, and we're working to make Chapel Hill and Carrboro more vibrant, accessible, fun, and sustainable.  Please consider a small donation to help us keep our digital lights on, host events, and hire students to do data deep-dives.

Geoff Green, AICP lives in Chapel Hill. In his day job he's a practicing urban planner; in his spare time he rides his electric bike around town and advocates for improved facilities so that everyone can...