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Property owners concerned about SB 197

OPINION by Ellen Howland, guest column | March 26, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.

We are property owners within the city of Hot Springs and are concerned about Senate Bill 197, which would completely deregulate the short-term rental (Airbnb, VRBO, etc.) industry in the state of Arkansas. It will nullify all ordinances passed anywhere in Arkansas.

This bill is an overreach by the state Legislature, overriding local decisions for personal financial gain and could very well lead to investigations and lawsuits. The state doesn't like federal government interference; cities don't like state interference.

At the March 15 meeting of the City, County and Local Affairs Committee, multiple city mayors, leaders and residents from all over the state testified against the bill. The hotel industry was also represented by Arkansas hoteliers who are against the bill, as it presents an unfair playing field to them.

I encourage you to be sure you hear all sides, including the concerning public safety issues. SB 197 is not simply about property rights! Many of us in Hot Springs could speak to our safety concerns. My husband and I have been victims of theft (new boat) and trespassing. Our boat was stolen from our covered boat dock where it was secured. Three weeks later, it was found at a nearby STR boat dock -- it was trashed and abandoned there. We have spent thousands of dollars to make our property more secure. My husband worked with City Director Karen Garcia and the Hot Springs Police Department to form a Neighborhood Watch for our street.

We purchased our home in 2020 as our dream retirement home. We have family, friends, and church family in Hot Springs and were so excited to retire full-time to the lake. When the issue of STRs came up, we felt secure in the knowledge that our city had an ordinance that would protect us and our major investment. If SB 197 passes, we fear that we will be living in the wild, wild West. The sponsors of SB 197 want to place the management of STR issues on the back of our already overburdened police force. I do not want to spend my retirement calling police non-emergency lines or enduring any of the nightmares that friends in the county, where there are no STR ordinances, endure. There is no POA or HOA in our neighborhood and there are now over 40 STRs on our street. Density is a real issue, and we are counting on our city, not the state, to help with this. We believe in personal rights; however, there must be something to protect our rights too!

Several cities have passed STR ordinances, but it wasn't until Bella Vista passed theirs that SB 197 was introduced. Hot Springs has a working ordinance, and most would agree that it is still a work in progress. Our city leaders and elected officials work hard to represent their constituents on both sides of this issue. They are a direct reflection of those they serve.

Arkansas cities and towns are all unique and want/need to make their own decisions in regulating STR businesses. There is no way the state can regulate all individual situations. This is not a "one size fits all" type of issue; each city and town has its own special needs, and we elect local public officials who reflect our needs.

STRs have a significant role in the tourism industry. However, traditional neighborhoods are feeling a negative impact at times. Local government is in a better position to address the unique nature of our neighborhoods. SB 197 would render cities helpless in addressing the concerns of local residents.

My hope in sharing this is to bring awareness to this issue. Our calls and emails to our elected state officials are critical to defeating SB 197.

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