Ashley Santos

Ashley Santos, 35, tried unsuccessfully on July 22, 2019 to convince the Louisville Metro Board of Zoning Adjustment that the house she bought on Sherwood Avenue is her primary residence. The distinction makes a big difference for Louisville's new short-term rental rules. (Chris Otts, WDRB)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Ashley Santos, an incoming nursing student at Bellarmine University, stood at a podium before the Louisville Metro Board of Zoning Adjustment on Monday with one goal: to convince the board’s six members that she really does live in the house that she bought earlier this year in the Deer Park neighborhood.

Others who live in the 1800 block of Sherwood Avenue told a different story, saying Santos is rarely around, but her “very loud” and “disturbing” Airbnb guests are.

One next-door neighbor looked up Santos’ wedding registry – why is she asking for money to remodel a bathroom when the house on Sherwood is already remodeled? Another neighbor even called the hospital in California where her Facebook profile indicated she works.

Until this year, there wasn’t much reason for Louisville authorities to care whether Santos’ “primary residence” is really the Sherwood Avenue house or in California, where she’s from.

But now the question of where Santos lives "most of the time" has big implications for her right to rent the house for short-term stays through Airbnb.

Louisville Metro Council’s recent overhaul of short-term rental rules places a lot of emphasis on whether a home rented on a platforms like Airbnb is the host’s primary residence.

If it is, permission to rent it out is a matter of simple paperwork.

But if it’s not, a lengthier permitting process is required. And, the permit can be denied if another home already permitted for short-term rentals is within 600 feet – a new rule meant to keep neighborhoods from turning into de-facto hotel districts.

“The primary residency is what is the necessary, operative fact (as to) whether or not you have the right to rent your home,” Metro Councilman Brandon Coan, the primary author of the new short-term rental rules, told the zoning board on Monday.

The difference in treatment means there is a substantial incentive for homeowners to claim the house they want to list on Airbnb is their primary residence. But what happens when neighbors dispute that?

Anticipating such a conflict, Metro Council gave the zoning board, a group of residents appointed by Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, the power to sort it out. The board is directed to examine documents like voter registrations, electricity bills, driver’s licenses and testimony from the people involved during a public hearing.

Santos’ case on Monday was the first time the board has been asked to make a residency determination since the new rules were adopted in April.

“This is the only house that I own; If this isn’t my home, what is?” Santos, 35, told the board.

But the zoning board members weren’t convinced. They voted 5-1 to reject Santos’ claim, citing her testimony that she would be “moving around” between Louisville and California frequently at least through her wedding in September and October honeymoon, before starting Bellarmine in the spring of 2020.

Dwight Young, the chairman of the board, noted Santos’ Kentucky driver’s license showing the Sherwood address was issued on Friday – apparently in anticipation of the hearing, he said.

“We have not seen enough evidence yet, in my opinion, to prove that’s her permanent residence,” said board member Lula Howard.

In an interview following the hearing, Santos said she wasn’t sure whether she would seek a permit for her Airbnb rentals under the stricter, 600-foot rule for non-occupied homes.

She called the process to determine her residency “really disheartening.”

“I have heard great things about Louisville,” Santos said. “I heard it was a really warm, welcoming place. I’m like, I don’t really want to live here now.”

But there are already three or four homes frequently rented on Airbnb near Santos’ house, longtime Sherwood Avenue resident Beth Rose told the zoning board.

“We are not anti-Airbnb; some of them are great neighbors, some of them get called in,” Rose said. “… We’d welcome (Santos) to the neighborhood, but we don’t believe she is there yet.”

Reach reporter Chris Otts at 502-585-0822, cotts@wdrb.com, on Twitter or on Facebook. Copyright 2019 WDRB News. All rights reserved.

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Chris Otts reports for WDRB.com about business and economic topics, higher education and local / state government. He joined WDRB News in 2013 after seven years with The Courier-Journal. Got a tip? Chris is at 502-585-0822 and cotts@wdrb.com.