The Washington County Planning Commission voted this week to recommend new rules and regulations to the county’s short-term rentals and secondary suites ordinance.
The county defines a short-term rental as any property leased to a third party for less than 30 days and secondary accommodation as “subordinate” residential accommodation on the same land as a single-family home.
The county has sought to change the Short-Term Rental Units (STR) ordinance since it imposed a six-month moratorium on issuing new business licenses for such rentals in May. The county said the STR industry has grown so rapidly that the current ordinance does not provide adequate guidance, according to Scott Messel, director of community development for Washington County.
“The industry has grown so fast. As much as you want to try to be proactive, you might as well be more reactive in a way, ”he said.
In Washington County, there are about 5,522 STRs in operation and that industry has grown by 800% overall, according to Messel. The number of DOS now equals almost the county’s 6,200 hotel rooms, according to Messel.
This growth and importance of STRs in Washington County has led neighbors to complain that STRs are too disruptive in neighborhoods, including complaints about noise, dust and density issues.
What is recommended to change
On September 14, the county revealed proposed changes to the STR ordinance to remove the “tourist house” designation and create more regulations for STRs to limit their size, create occupancy requirements and to streamline the process.
These initial proposed changes to the STR have met with mixed reactions, some for and others against the changes. Based on public comments, the planning committee decided to postpone the issue until Tuesday’s meeting.
The committee considered two options – referred to as Option 1 and Option 2 at the meeting – when amending the STR Ordinance, Option 1 included the changes considered at the September 14 meeting that were more stringent than the rules proposed in option 2, according to Brandon Anderson, the chairman of the planning committee.
Option 2 was created based on feedback from the September 14 meeting and the commissioners recommended that option 2 be presented to the Washington County Commission.
Option 1 required all STRs to be owner occupied, meaning that a resident would have to spend the majority of the year on any property rented short-term and limit the maximum size of any short-term rental to 1 500 – 3,500 square feet depending on the size of the lot where the STR was located.
Tyson Isham, owner of an STR property management company called My 2nd Home Vacation Rental Management, says these changes would negatively affect his business and the people who own STR properties managed by Isham’s company.
“It would limit all legal operations. It would effectively shut us down, ”Isham said.
Isham said that requiring STRs to be occupied for the majority of the year changes these properties from being used as vacation rentals to bed and breakfast style properties. If the option were recommended and ultimately approved by county commissioners, it would make 96% of STRs on unincorporated land illegal, according to Isham.
Option 2 is more lenient on STR restrictions as this option does not require these properties to be owner occupied, increasing the maximum size of STRs by 500 square feet over Option 1. The maximum sizes of the property option 2 range from 2,000 to 4,000 square feet. / ft.
This option would require all authorized DOSs to have property manager or owner contact details displayed with weather resistant signage with manager contact details. It also states that any property manager must respond to calls or complaints about a STR within two hours.
The planning committee approved the recommendation for Option 2 by a 4-1 vote, with Commissioners Reed Snow, Kevin Jones, Frank Lueck and Mark Owens voting for it and Slade Hughes the only dissenting vote.
The vote also recommended increasing the maximum area allowed for secondary accommodation, to 2,000 square feet for a half-acre lot, up to 3,000 square feet for a 2.5-acre lot and up to to 4,000 square feet for any land that is larger than 2.5 acres.
Changes to the ordinance must be finalized by the three-member Washington County commission with the option of making a decision that was not recommended by the planning commission.
Impacts on existing short-term rentals
These changes would only apply to STRs and ADUs located on unincorporated land in Washington County and the rules would be different for all properties within city limits.
Isham is concerned that the moratorium put in place and these proposed changes to the STR ordinance will negatively impact owners and managers of licensed STRs while allowing people to operate illegal or unlicensed STRs, as the county has limited resources to control illegal STRs.
“If they ended the moratorium and went back to the old ordinance and just enforced it, then we would have people who would just get licenses left and right,” Isham said.
But local bodies such as city and county governments are limited in how they can regulate STRs, due to HB 253 which was enacted in March 2017. This prevents localities from enforcing any STR ordinance on unlicensed rentals using vacation rental websites such as Airbnb and VRBO.
This ensures that cities and counties cannot take legal action against illegal STRs unless they can prove that a property is illegally rented without using a vacation rental website, according to Adam Lenhard, director of the city of St. George. This makes the process of policing illegal STRs ‘complaint-driven’, meaning that a neighbor usually has to complain about an unlicensed STR in order for action to be taken on his or her. against, according to Lenhard.
Monica Diaz, Marketing Director of My 2nd Home Vacation Rental Management, agrees with the rule that STRs should be managed with those who have hospitality experience and is “grateful” that the planning board has recommended option 2 more lenient. But one rule remains in Option 2 that has upset property managers on Fourth Amendment grounds, according to Diaz.
“Notification that STR guests are required to make the living unit available for inspection by the sheriff’s office, local law enforcement or code enforcement officer upon request.” the rule states.
The Fourth Amendment protects citizens against illegal searches and seizures of their property, these rights are granted to hotel guests as defined in the Supreme Court case of 1948. Johnson v. United States. Diaz says this rule is not legally valid because it allows government agents such as police or code enforcement officers to gain access to a property without obtaining a search warrant.
Diaz and Isham created the Washington County Property Rights and STR Facebook group to raise awareness of the concerns of STR managers and owners about these proposed changes. The owners of STR are often locals, residents of northern Utah, and out-of-state people looking to earn extra cash, according to Isham.
Isham says the pressure to change the STR ordinance has come from neighbors and the hospitality industry.
“Hotels always put pressure on cities,” he said. “The hotels are in fierce competition with us, we don’t feel like we are in fierce competition with them, but they do feel it from us.”
Danny Wittwer, director of operations at Wittwer Hospitality – a local company that operates nine hotels in Utah and Arizona – disagrees that hotels are against the STR industry as a whole. He says hotels are concerned about STRs operating in residential areas and those without a business license.
“I’m not against them, I think there is a place for them,” Wittwer said. “It’s just when they don’t play by the same rules as everyone else, that’s when it becomes a problem.”
In St. George, the county’s largest city, all STRs are prohibited in neighborhoods zoned for single-family homes.
Wittwer’s main concern is unlicensed STRs, as these rentals often avoid paying a transitional room tax and are not properly equipped to handle short-term guests, especially if those guests receive complaints from neighbors. Isham shares these concerns and says that many concerns and complaints about STRs can be alleviated if these rentals are managed properly and contribute to the economy.
“We bring in a lot more tax and income to the county on these properties than many standard full-time senior residents,” Isham said.
Although STRs attract tourists to the area, Wittwer is concerned about the economic impact of these rentals on housing prices. Since STRs decrease housing supply and some STR investors may buy multiple properties and rent them short term to make money.
“You don’t just get individuals renting one or two rooms in their homes, you bring in institutional investors to pay in cash and push up the prices, reducing the affordability for people to buy homes there. live ”, says Wittwer
Isham says his company’s STRs do not “compete” for affordable or low-income housing prices because guests want to stay in properties other than low-income housing, according to Isham. And house prices that are affected by STRs impact more high-income people who can afford to pay increased costs, according to Isham.
“Our clients expect the best and for that reason we are not even a threat to social housing, because clients want to stay in nicer neighborhoods, in more homes and condos. pleasant, ”Isham said. “We always present the most beautiful property in the neighborhood and which respects all the values of the house of the neighbors.
The concern about STRs affecting housing affordability was shared by the county. Messel cited a figure that a 10% increase in STRs in a local area results in a 0.42% increase in rents and the 800% increase in the number of STRs created since 2011 would be responsible for a 33 increase. , 6% of the rents during the same period. period.
It is unclear what the latest changes to the STR ordinance will be, as many homeowners left the planning committee meeting upset by the recommendation. But the final changes to this ordinance will be determined by the county commissioners.
Sean Hemmersmeier covers local government, growth and development in Southwest Utah. Follow on Twitter @ seanhemmers34. Our work depends on subscribers, so if you would like more coverage on these issues, you can subscribe at www.thespectrum.com/subscribe.