Lexington explores changing its property rental laws

By Andrew Arnold 

The city of Lexington wants to change its laws surrounding how residents can rent extra spaces on their property. People like Mirabai McLeod are part of the reason why. 

McLeod decided last November to retire and sold most of her catering business equipment, turned away clients and let go of her business license. She wanted to turn her garage and catering kitchen into a small apartment to rent.

McLeod’s catering kitchen would be converted into a small kitchen for the apartment. (Arnold photo)

But she couldn’t. A city code requires rental properties to share an adjoining wall with the main home. 

“At this phase in my life, I don’t have a lot of money coming in for social security,” McLeod said. “I can’t afford to not have any income. I always had it in the back of my mind when I stopped catering that I would have that income.”

McLeod said she asked if building a walkway or some sort of porch between her two buildings would satisfy the code. She was told no. That’s when she complained to the city’s Planning Commission and City Council.

“I do believe that that will change because they all realize it’s kind of a foolish thing,” McLeod said. “I also think it’s going to take about a year.”

Council Member Leslie Straughan said the process for changing the code is not easy. She said she expects it will not be resolved until late summer.

One of the main issues being debated is the idea of using the extra spaces, officially called accessory dwelling units, as Airbnb-type rentals. The city views such rentals as short-term, meaning people are staying for less than 30 days.

Accessory dwelling unit
A view of the accessory dwelling unit structure that would be developed if the code was changed. (Arnold photo)

Straughan said she anticipates some residents will oppose the short-term rentals because they do not want people who aren’t tied to the area living near their homes.

“For us, it’s important to come up with a regulation that allows people to do what they like,” Straughan said, “but also, makes sure that it doesn’t negatively impact the neighbors or the neighborhood—the character of the neighborhood.”

She also said there is still a lot to do before the code can be changed. The new code would need to be approved by the city attorney and City Council. She said she hopes to have a draft available for public comment by May.

“It could give us more housing options, which we need.” Straughan said. “We have a lot of two- and single-person households, so having a smaller housing option is very desirable.”

She said she wants a new code to help citizens like McLeod. But Straughan said it is also important to minimize the impact for homeowners who live near renters.

The Planning Commission is considering approving proposals for creating rental spaces on a case-by-case basis. That way the city could hear from potential renters’ neighbors and address their concerns before moving forward with approval.

McLeod said she has reopened her catering business, Mountain Mama, and is searching for clients. Over the past month she said she bought back some of the equipment that she had sold in November.

“I’m having to pay a lot of money to replace stuff with nothing coming in yet,” she said. “But you got to do what you go to do.”