SEVIERVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — People who live in a residential neighborhood in Sevier County were alarmed when one of the homes in their community was listed as a short-term rental. It didn’t take long to nip the issue in the bud, for those living in the relatively new subdivision.
Many people looking for short-term vacation rentals turn to listings on sites like Airbnb, that’s where one of the homes in the River Sounds community showed up. It took the action of a watchful resident to get the listing taken down in his secluded community.
Across the state, there have been battles between neighbors for short-term rentals and those against short-term rentals in their individual neighborhoods. Some Homeowner Association rules allow short-term rentals, while others don’t.
The River Sounds neighborhood in Sevier County is picturesque. Some of the homes are big and spacious. Each one of the custom-built homes sits on at least an acre of property. People who live there say the best things about the neighborhood are that it’s quiet, off the beaten path, and just a great place to live.
“Whenever we get off work this is our safe haven to everything that we do. Our neighborhood is a family. Everybody in this entire neighborhood knows everybody by name and everybody knows each other by their dogs,” said Spencer Lewis, a River Sounds resident.
Lewis has lived at River Sounds for five years. He and other residents were disturbed when a stranger knocked on a neighbor’s door two weeks ago inquiring about an Airbnb rental.
“We had one resident in our neighborhood that put their house up for overnight rentals. It is causing a lot of discomfort in the neighborhood,” said Lewis.
He explained several concerns with overnight rentals in the neighborhood.
“We don’t want people speeding through the neighborhood, we don’t want people observing the neighborhood. We don’t want the disruption to happen here. If you want to go out stay in a hotel, stay in a time-share, stay in a cabin up in the mountains. You are secluded and want to be in the action-packed of it, by all means, go for it,” said Lewis.
He said he didn’t want a quarrel with his neighbor who placed the short-term rental ad. So, he and others dug up the Declaration of Restrictions for River Sounds, the legal documents.
“I went out with a couple of the neighbors, found the bylaws, found out exactly where they were. And reached out to the owner,” said Lewis.
The subdivision’s Land Use clause states no commercial enterprises or for-profit businesses are allowed in the community.
“All lots are to be used exclusively for single-family residential purpose only,” said Lewis.
However in a decision by the Tennessee Supreme Court reached last month, the judges ruled the original covenants of a development on Center Hill Lake in Middle Tennessee were too ambiguous to prohibit short-term rentals even though the rules limited property use to “residential purposes.” WATE asked Lewis about the wording of the covenants for River Sounds.
“It does not say short-term rentals, but when you consider the commercial use of the VRBO and Airbnb, all these groups and organizations that do overnight rentals, that is running a business out of your home, for profit. It states, in the restrictions, cannot do that,” said Lewis.
He said the short-term rental ad has been removed by VRBO and Airbnb.
“Once we sent this in and we itemized it, line number 2 and sent it out. They classified that as a “short-term” and not eligible to be actually rented,” said Lewis.
Short-term vacation rentals have created a good deal of controversy since the start of their existence about 10 years ago. Living next door to a short-term vacation rental can range from mildly concerning to completely life-altering. Complaints about trash, parking issues, and turning short-term vacation rentals into party houses worry homeowners.
Spencer Lewis and his neighbors didn’t want their neighborhood negatively affected by a short-term rental. So, they checked the community rules, that everyone signed, and took action. They’re hoping that it sticks.