NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — As the Tennessee House Commerce Committee prepared to hear a bill to limit Nashville’s ability to regulate short-term rentals, Airbnb had a witness with a horror story about why legislative action was urgently needed.
Barbara Culligan testified last week that Metro Nashville officials are essentially out of control.
“A law that would require a homeowner to be in their home for at least 15 hours a day while guests are present is still being discussed,” Culligan told lawmakers.
“Think how far Metro Council’s assault on property rights has come when Metro deems it acceptable that the government has the right to regulate how many hours residents spend in their own home.”
What didn’t seem to matter was this little detail: it doesn't appear to be true.
When NewsChannel 5 Investigates reached Culligan by phone, she was reluctant to discuss her testimony, saying she was “a private person.”
So where did she get the information that Nashville city leaders are discussing such a proposal?
“Look, about two years ago with the Metro Council’s start trying to do [sic], and they still talk about it,” Culligan said.
Listen to phone call below:
In fact, such legislation was introduced in 2020 by one Metro Council member, and it failed to pass. NewsChannel 5 checked with several Council members, and we could find no evidence that anyone has proposed it since.
Still, we wanted to give Culligan a chance to document her claim that the proposal is still being considered, but she hung up on us.
Culligan is described in an op-ed published by The Tennessean as president of the industry-funded Nashville Area Short Term Rental Association (NASTRA), as well as “an Airbnb Superhost, Nashville community leader and ambassador.”
A Facebook photo shows Culligan was tagged at a Vacation Rental Women's Summit in New Orleans in February 2019.
She and her husband Patrick have an “owner-occupied permit” for a four-bedroom house on Sigler Street, near Music Row.
According to short-term rental data published by Metro Nashville, the mailing address for Culligan’s permit was originally a P.O. Box in Germantown, Tennessee, in Shelby County.
Culligan also registered to vote in Nashville right before she got her short-term owner permit. A Metro voter database shows the mailing address for her Davidson County voter registration was originally that same P.O. Box in Shelby County.
In a brief text exchange after she hung up on us, Culligan explained that she now lives in that Sigler Street home, that “my previous address is in Germantown.”
Property records show the Culligans also still own a home there in Shelby County.
Although Davidson County Election Commission data indicates that Culligan has never voted in Nashville, voter registration is considered one way to document residency for owner-occupied short-term rentals.
Still, Culligan’s testimony, our investigation discovered, is part of a public relations campaign orchestrated by those pushing the Airbnb legislation, with the bill's sponsors often making questionable, misleading or downright false claims.
“Airbnb is looking for one or two owner-occupied hosts to speak about changes in legislation that would be favorable to STRs,” Culligan posted in a Facebook group for those engaged in short-term rentals.
“Airbnb would help you understand the changes.”
Culligan’s column in The Tennessean suggests that the Airbnb legislation is designed to protect people who own and live in their homes.
“This bill only pertains to owner-occupied permits,” Culligan’s column.
“Nashville residents who are trying to earn additional income through the homes in which they live should be able to do so without the fear of the Metro City Council arbitrarily changing the rules to garner re-election votes."
But the Airbnb legislation would redefine “owner-occupied” in Nashville so that the owner would not actually have to live there, potentially opening the door to new competition from those owners who have played by the rules. It also limits Nashville’s ability to take enforcement action about both owner-occupied and non-owner-occupied rentals.
Culligan's main beef with the city of Nashville appears to stem from a 2019 lawsuit after Metro mistakenly issued her a short-term rental permit, incorrectly believing that she owned an attached dwelling, then tried to revoke it.
She cites her experience as an example of Nashville's "regulatory overreach."
A Davidson County chancellor issued an order blocking Metro from enforcing the revocation of Culligan's permit.
Codes accidentally sent a second revocation letter days later, ordering Culligan to cease operations, followed by a third letter 11 days later noting "some confusion" and acknowledging that Culligan was allowed to continue operation pending the outcome of the case.
Chancellor Anne Martin found Metro in civil contempt, while noting that the actions by Metro Zoning Administrator Jon Michael did not appear to be intentional.
"The Court does not find that he, acting on behalf of Metro intended to violate the order," Martin wrote.
"In fact, it was apparent to the Court that he very much regretted the fallout from the second letter and was frank with the Court that he takes responsibility for the confusion that resulted."
Metro Council later passed an ordinance grandfathering in those properties that were mistakenly issued permits, and the case was dropped.
SPECIAL SECTION: Revealed
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