CINCINNATI — Michele Campbell gets five-star reviews as an Airbnb host, but some of her Mount Adams neighbors aren’t so thrilled with her side business.
Three Mount Adams properties rented out by Campbell through her company Red Whale Rentals have drawn at least 20 complaints since last year, according to city records. Now she has a case pending before the city Zoning Board of Appeals as the City Council considers possible regulation for short-term rentals.
Campbell said she got into Airbnb as a way to draw new people to Mount Adams. She pointed out how businesses like the iconic bar Longworth’s and Thai restaurant Teak have closed, and said she wants to bring new life to the neighborhood.
“As downtown starts to build, Mount Adams suffers,” she said. “When I moved up here, everything felt alive still. And slowly, as OTR built, I could see the changes in Mount Adams.”
But Mount Adams is still a popular destination for the young and rowdy on weekend nights, and neighbors of the properties Campbell leases and rents out on Saint Gregory, Celestial and Guido streets have complained about “large drunken parties,” guests taking up all the street parking and a fire pit close to a house next door.
“In reality, it is a party house with people constantly coming and going at all hours–some drunk and disorderly,” one neighbor wrote in a complaint to the city. “Police have been called. All neighbors are fed up.”
Celestial Street resident Luke Robinson said he’s heard about raging Airbnb house parties from some of his neighbors.
“It’s Mount Adams, so when the bars close you usually expect to hear somebody stumbling down the street, or worse,” he said. “But when someone feels like they’re paying to stay there, there’s an extra sort of sense of liberty to carry on. It’s not the same as someone just out on the street because they’ve had too much to drink. This has momentum, right? So it’s just a little harder to deal with.”
The Mount Adams Civic Association has even followed the issue, publishing updates on the situation in its quarterly newsletter. MACA president Kurt Meier said some residents have complained about Airbnb guests causing “havoc throughout the night, into the early morning and late morning hours.” But, he said they’re not opposed to having short-term rentals in the neighborhood.
“There’s nothing wrong with having parties in Mount Adams,” Meier said. “What’s wrong is having parties in Mount Adams that become a community nuisance. They’re extremely loud, they cause havoc, they throw bottles, they do all kinds of illegal activity throughout the night and into the morning hours.”
Campbell lives in the neighborhood, too. She said she doesn’t want any animosity with her neighbors.
“I feel like a villain in my own town,” she said. “And I really started it to be a hero.”
Campbell said she’s aiming for a “higher-end clientele.” Renting the properties costs several hundred dollars a night, and she said her guests have included professional athletes and bigwigs from the movie industry.
After hearing complaints from neighbors, Campbell said she responded and tried to appease them. She got rid of the fire pit. And her listings on Airbnb specify a maximum number of guests and that “no parties or events” are allowed.
“With any new business, there’s a learning curve,” she said.
Of course, Campbell isn’t the only Airbnb host in Mount Adams. A search on the site reveals about a dozen available on various dates. There are 177 active rentals in the zip code that includes Mount Adams, Over-the-Rhine and other central neighborhoods, according to unofficial Airbnb analytics site AirDNA. And that doesn’t include short-term rental properties that are listed on other sites like VRBO.
Campbell isn’t the only host up the hill to draw complaints, either. Some Mount Adams residents said they recently heard guests firing a gun at another short-term rental property. But some seem to fly under the radar of neighbors.
“Not every Airbnb that operates in Mount Adams is being operated badly,” Meier said. “A lot of them are operated properly. We never hear from them.”
After receiving complaints about Campbell’s Airbnbs, a city building inspector issued violations to her and the buildings’ owner (Campbell leases the properties from him), ordering that they “discontinue bed and breakfast, room for rent, hotel or motel operations, or rooming house use.”
Campbell has appealed the alleged violations. Her attorney, Daniel McCarthy, wrote in their application to the Zoning Board of Appeals that the short-term rentals through sites like Airbnb don’t fall under any of the property uses cited by the building inspector. Instead, he claimed they would fall under the same Cincinnati Zoning Code definition that covers yearly and monthly rentals.
In fact, Cincinnati has no law specifically governing short-term rentals. Neither does Ohio.
“If the City wants to prohibit the use of websites like Airbnb and vrbo.com, then the City should address the issue head on and not simply create ad hoc regulations by implication,” McCarthy wrote.
But Cincinnati could soon have regulations in place. Councilman David Mann introduced an ordinance earlier this year which would require property owners to obtain a license from the city for short-term rentals of less than a month. The law, as introduced, would limit the number of days each year that an entire home could be rented out on sites like Airbnb.
However, the City Council hasn’t taken any action on that ordinance since it was introduced in March. Campbell and other Airbnb hosts said they’ve been meeting with city officials to discuss possible future regulation.
“It’s a big business, and I think the city just wants to make sure everyone meets the building code,” Campbell said.
In the meantime, her zoning appeals hearing has been delayed. Campbell’s Red Whale Rentals continues to earn positive reviews on Airbnb from guests who call the properties “gorgeous,” “absolutely wonderful” and “an amazing find.”
Campbell does appear to have cracked down on parties. One of her guests noted in a recent review that he was irked by the strict enforcement on the number of visitors allowed.
“We were also informed that … the reason we couldn’t have any other visitors is because the manager did not want us being too loud for the neighbors,” he wrote. “This is understandable, however, there is a rooftop bar right next door called the Pavilion that is extremely loud and has live music until 2:15 a.m. I have never dealt with such strict rules from an Airbnb and I would recommend reviewing everything in detail and expecting a few surprises after booking this location.”