Brief-term rental issues plague a small Idaho city close to Yellowstone

Yellowstone Park visitors stroll through Old Faithful after an eruption on the park’s opening day in May 2020. | Jacob W. Frank, National Park Service

ISLAND PARK (Idaho Capital Sun) – Idaho’s scenic views and endless array of outdoor recreational opportunities have always drawn visitors – tourists and new residents alike. But the dynamic has changed over the past decade with the advent of third-party rental websites like Airbnb, VRBO, and Vacasa. These short term rentals and vacation homes opened up accommodation to more visitors in some corners of the state.

One of those corners is Island park, Population 266, where city and county officials were unable to regulate short-term rental properties, causing complaints from some residents.

Fremont County commissioner Blair Dance said the real estate industry in Island Park, a half-hour drive from West Yellowstone, has exploded in recent years. And it probably won’t wear off anytime soon – May was one Record month for visits to Yellowstone.

“(The short-term rental market) has built and developed and has become a viable economic option for people with their residences, their second homes to cover some of their expenses, and more and more people are getting on,” said Dance. “The word got around and has grown really pretty quickly over the past five to ten years.”

While in other high rent areas in Idaho staff and much information around Rules and regulations For short term rentals in a designated area, Fremont County has one brochure Outline the approval process and three employees in the planning and development department to enforce the district’s ordinances.

County regulations allow property owners to obtain temporary residence permits – which is the equivalent of staying for less than 30 days. The permit is divided into two categories based on the guest capacity of the property – a class 1 permit costs $ 200 for up to 15 guests and a class 2 permit costs $ 500 for 16-30 guests. Both include requirements for septic and well inspections every two years.

“I assume there are people out there who avoid letting people know that they are renting their home for short term rental and our struggle is, ‘OK, how do we get this monitored and how do we find the workforce? to do that? ‘”said Dance. “It is a challenge.”

Tom Cluff, Planning and Construction Administrator for Fremont County, told commissioners at a meeting in April that he estimates about 60% of cabin rentals in the area are legal. In a follow-up email to the Idaho Capital Sun, Cluff said that number was an estimate of the worst-case scenario.

“I told the commissioners that our records show that there are nearly 600 legal cabin rentals in Fremont County,” Cluff said. “There are some other people who think there is more – maybe up to 1,000 rentals in the Island Park area.”

Do a search on found so many short term rentals in Island Park and Fremont Counties that it stopped at the 300 maximum rental advert. Do a search on 896 accommodations found. The AirDNA short-term rental data and analysis website lists 838 active rentals in the area.

Fremont County had 13,099 residents and 9,186 residential units as of July 2019.

When Cluff discovers that an owner is renting without permission, whether through a resident complaint or otherwise, the focus is on compliance rather than punishment. People almost always opt for approval after being contacted, and fines and other penalties are rarely required. No set of rules is perfect, he said, but Fremont County’s procedures have for the most part worked pretty well.

A screenshot of a search for short term rentals in Island Park.

‘The peace and quiet of the area … is gone’

Ken Watts, resident since 2010, is chairman of the Coalition for the Preservation of the Island Park, a local advocacy group. Watts said temporary rentals have created tremendous conflict in the community. He said he had filed complaints with the county about short-term rentals in his area that went unanswered, including one last July. Cluff said he was aware of the complaints but was unable to comment on an ongoing investigation or pending enforcement effort.

Watts said the rent across the street from his house is $ 735 a night, and he knows others are over $ 1,000 a night. These prices often attract large groups and multiple vehicles parked in front of the house, along with a lot of noise and sometimes people with guns shooting or yelling at neighbors.

“You can’t believe the tension and conflict this creates for the people who live here. The people who live here full time or part time just hate it, ”said Watts. “The peace and quiet of the area they moved to and where they built homes are gone.”

Watts is partly to blame House bill 216, which passed and came into effect at the 2017 Idaho Legislature session because the county did not respond. The law prohibits local governments from restricting short-term rentals. He says some officials interpret this to mean that they cannot regulate rents at all, but the law also includes language to protect neighborhood integrity and health and safety.

“Imagine you’re in a residential neighborhood and see 20, 30, 40 strangers walking your streets,” said Watts. “We used to never lock our doors or windows and now we don’t know who is in our neighborhood, so we’re more careful.”

Watts said his goal is not to get rid of temporary rentals, but he would like the criteria for a rental to be better tailored to the neighborhood in which it is located.

“So if the average is four people in a given house, try not to exceed that (in a rented apartment) as it would change the character of the neighborhood to accommodate 20 people,” he said.

Officials do not name HB 216 as a contributing factor

Cluff said he is looking into what options may be available to provide quotes to individuals in response to a problem rather than sending out an infringement notice that requires a response. Cluff said these quotes are likely not aimed at illicit rentals, but rather those describing problems for a neighborhood like Watts’.

However, he does not believe that House Bill 216 had any impact on enforcement efforts. When the bill was passed, he said Fremont County’s short-term rental rules had been in place for several years.

“I don’t think it makes enforcing illegal rentals difficult,” said Cluff.

Seth Grigg, executive director of the Idaho Association of Counties, said he hadn’t heard any complaints from many county officials about short-term rentals not being properly regulated or registered. The bigger worry he hears is about the impact on housing costsas individuals or investors buy homes in popular vacation communities and then rent them out.

Idaho Association of Cities executive director Kelley Packer said she hadn’t heard widespread concern about short-term guide rentals. In addition, as a former legislator in 2017, Packer voted yes to House Bill 216, saying it was intended to protect personal property rights and was deliberately designed to be outsourced to regulate the health, safety and wellbeing of residents.

“I think there is a fine line between maintaining personal property rights and a community that is still able to set decent standards for homeowners in its jurisdiction,” said Packer. “… So I think 216 was a pretty good calculation.”

Tourists wait in long lines to enter Yellowstone from Idaho on Memorial Day weekend 2017. The west entrance to Yellowstone is a half hour drive from Island Park. | Jacob W. Frank, National Park Service

Residents fear a lack of enforcement mechanisms

Another short-term rental issue raised by Island Park residents is registration with the Idaho State Tax Commission. House Bill 216 changed the law so that when an owner advertises an apartment on a third-party website like Airbnb, the company automatically collects the applicable taxes and forwards it to the tax commission on behalf of the host.

But if an owner advertises an apartment through the headings of a newspaper or only reserves short-term stays through direct contact, he can theoretically bypass the state occupancy and accommodation tax. It is up to the owner to register with the state as a short-term renter in order to transfer taxes within 45 days.

Ron Folsom, former Ammon city administrator, lives in the Island Park area and said he knew it was a problem.

“I know people who have rented here for 30 years and they have long-term renters who come every summer and are not registered (with the state to collect taxes),” Folsom said.

Folsom inquired with the state tax authority about registration and asked for confirmation that there is no formal enforcement mechanism for registering such rentals.

Daniel Reines, a tax research specialist with the Idaho State Tax Commission, responded to Folsom’s question by saying that there are individuals on the commission who are aware of short-term rentals and are devoted to their responsibilities and promoting voluntary compliance.

Reines sees the goal of compliance as ensuring a fair and competitive marketplace, but tax professionals also need to consider whether the effort and methods of achieving compliance are more expensive than the revenue that would be earned.

Could HOAs step in? “We dig in”

While adding more staff to Cluff’s division could help enforcement, Dance also believes homeowners associations could be used to ensure rentals are legal. House Bill 216 doesn’t allow an association to restrict short-term rentals, but Dance said the association may require proof of permits as a means of enforcement.

“It’s just a process that we’re learning about and trying to address,” said Dance.

He and the other two Fremont County commissioners are also communicating with other counties across Idaho to understand how they deal with short-term rents.

“We’re digging into it and going through an educational process looking for ways that we as a county can get a return (rent) from this industry in a number of ways that help cover the extra costs these extra people bring with them . “The burden they bring to the county,” said Dance.

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