Bill to allow homeowners short-term rentals advances

ST. GEORGE – A bill that would take away the ability of counties and municipalities to ban short-term rentals in the case of owner-occupied units passed out of a legislative committee earlier this week. While supporters of the bill are pleased it is off to a good start, opponents are not.

The proposed Short-Term Rental Amendments law, designated as House Bill 253, would prohibit a political subdivision of the state from disallowing a homeowner using a part of his or her home for nightly rental. It also blocks a city or county from enforcing anti-short-term rental ordinances based on online listings.

St. George resident Stephen Palmer (white shirt, beard), sits by Rep. John Knotwell, R-Herriman, as he gives testimony in the House Business and Labor Committee in support of House Bill 253, Knotwell’s proposed bill that would prohibit cities from banning owner-occupied short-term rentals, Salt Lake City, Utah, Feb. 13, 2017 | Photo courtesy of Stephen Palmer, St. George News

Arguments for and against the bill were heard by the House Business and Labor Committee Monday. Despite opposition to the bill, it passed out of committee with a favorable recommendation in a 13-1 vote. The only nay vote came from Rep. Stanard, R-St. George.

Stanard told St. George News following the vote that while he is conflicted over the matter, as he uses short-term rentals while traveling himself, he voted against the bill as a show of support for St. George officials.

Both Stanard and St. George Mayor Jon Pike, who testified at the hearing Monday, said tourism-heavy St. George would be particularly affected by the bill if it passes.

While St. George allows for short-term rentals in specific parts of the city like Green Valley and Entrada and in some cases of incoming developments, short-term rentals in residential areas are prohibited.

Short-term rentals themselves are defined as a unit or partial-units that are rented out for less than 30 days. These rentals are typically accessed through websites like Airbnb and Vrbo.

Rep. John Knotwell, R-Herriman, the bill’s sponsor, told the House Business and Labor Committee Monday that the bill is meant to strike a balance between property rights and local regulation.

“I believe (this) is a reasonable approach to protecting property rights while still allowing an enormous amount of local control,” Knotwell said.

The bill specifically addresses owner-occupied short-term rentals, where the homeowner is present and not out-of-town. In the latter case, the bill leaves it to cities and counties to regulate as they see fit.

this 2016 file photo shows a residential street in St. George. 2017’s House Bill 253, a bill proposing to keep counties and municipalities from banning owner-occupied short-term rentals, or renting out parts of their home for night rentals similar to a hotel, is currently making its way through the Legislature, St. George elected officials currently oppose the bill, St. George, Utah, April 1, 2016 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

While municipalities wouldn’t be able to enact a blanket ban on the owner-occupied rentals, Knotwell said, they would remain free to regulate aspects surrounding them. He pointed to ordinances related to noise, trash and parking as examples of such regulation.

Owner-occupied situations themselves account for a small percentage of short-term rentals, St. George resident Stephen Palmer told St. George News, estimating it to be around 2-7 percent of the overall market.

Palmer was an Airbnb host in St. George for around a year, renting out his basement to guests who applied through the website. His family averaged $1,000 a month from the short-term rental. He also noted he had no idea at the time that short-term rentals were in violation of city code.

The city sent Palmer a notice in the mail in May 2015 telling him he was in violation and potentially faced a misdemeanor charge if he did not comply.

“What was particularly disturbing about the notice of violation was how it was served,” Palmer told the committee. “The letter stated that a code enforcement officer had been in my neighborhood and ‘conducted an inspection,’ and observed a violation. This was simply not true. To put it bluntly, it was a flat out lie.”

No one ever came to his home, Palmer said, and claimed that the city only found out about the short-term rental through the Airbnb website.

Palmer would go on to challenge the city’s short-term rental regulations. The issue was picked up by local- and state-level media for a time as well. The St. George City Council, after a series of meetings and deliberations, ultimately decided to continue enforcement against short-term rentals.

Before the city sent the notice, no one appeared to know Palmer had been renting out his home – not even the mayor who lives two house down from him. Palmer said:

As soon as we received the notice of violation we immediately went to (the mayor’s) office and visited with him. I asked him directly, ‘Did you know we were doing this?’ He said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘Did we do anything to hurt you?’ He said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘Did we affect your property values?’ He said, ‘No.’

We did absolutely nothing to hurt anyone else. And yet we are the ones being threatened. These types of codes create lawbreakers unnecessarily, because there is no criminal intent and there are no victims.

Pike, who attended the hearing along with members of the St. George City Council and City Manager Gary Esplin, said they were there representing what they believed to be the “vast majority” of St. George and the surrounding area.

“There are unintended consequences of this,” Pike said in regard to allowing short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods. “We believe it puts neighborhoods in conflict more than they already are. I had that in my own neighborhood and it’s difficult. It’s not fun. Love my neighbors, the Palmers, and yet it’s difficult because I’m getting it from both sides, even in my own neighborhood.”

St. George Mayor Jon Pike said that while he and other members of the City Council support the idea of short-term rentals, the possibility of having local authority to regulate said rentals taken away by the state via 2017’s House Bill 253 is not an appeal prospect, St. George, Utah, Feb. 16, 2017 | Photo by Austin Peck, St. George News

Pike primarily argued against the state taking regulatory power out of the hands of the cities and that a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t the answer.

“We believe local regulation … is probably best,” he said, adding that if the residents of St. George don’t agree with how the City Council is approaching the issue, they have the power to remove and replace council members with their vote.

“We feel like local government governs best, the government closest to the people governs best,” said Cameron Diehl, director of government relations for the Utah League of Cities and Towns. The League has worked with Knotwell on the bill, yet currently stands opposed to it as it seeks additional refinement and compromise.

See Pike interview in media player top of this report.

If the bill is passed, it will be left to the cities to enforce the new rules. Pike said the city would do it if it had to, though noted it would be a difficult prospect and be at a new cost to the city.

“By requiring the owner to be present, you have a built-in enforcement mechanism,” Conner Boyack, president of the Libertas Institute, said as he addressed the committee.

2017’s House Bill 253, a bill proposing to keep counties and municipalities from banning owner-occupied short-term rentals, or renting out parts of their home for night rentals similar to a hotel, is currently making its way through the Legislature, St. George elected officials currently oppose the bill, St. George, Utah, April 1, 2016 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Short-term rental hosts who live in their homes “have a vested interest in keeping their homes and properties clean, well-maintained, safe and attractive,” Palmer said.

Elements of home sharing are self-regulating, supporters have said. In the case of Airbnb, both hosts and guests post reviews of each other, thus filtering out potential troublemakers.

“Sound public policy should focus on individual actors and not a few bad apples. Don’t let (the few) be responsible for violating the rights of the many,” Boyack said in an interview with St. George News.

“St. George especially paints the issue with a broad brush and needs to (be) reined in,” he said.

Boyack also said it is appropriate and reasonable for the state to step in and “rein in” its cities and towns when they overstep their authority – authority given by the state in the first place.

Sandy resident Scott Sabey voiced his opposition to the bill, saying that short-term rental hosts are taking advantage of their neighbors who work hard to create nice and quiet neighborhoods.

There is also a question of safety, he said, as people who use short-term rentals likely aren’t as invested in the area as regular residents and may also not have the best of intentions.

St. George as seen from the top of the Sugarloaf/Dixie Rock, St. George, Utah, April 1, 2016 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

In addition to concerns over the character of potential short-term rental guests, other arguments against short-term rentals – particularly in residential neighborhoods – include worries over property value impacts, increases in traffic and parking, trash and noise.

Pike said Thursday that neither he nor the City Council really have issues with the concept of short-term rentals and even favor the idea. However, they oppose the proposed law due to its taking local zoning and regulatory control from the city. They also feel the bill is too broad in how it approaches the idea of enforcement.

“I think it’s a fairly good idea to leave it open to the municipalities in how they want to deal with it,” Pike said. “Right now there are too many questions.”

The bill now moves to the House floor. As it moves forward, Pike said, there will be many opportunities to discuss it with Knotwell, the bill’s sponsor, and seek additional refinements.


Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.


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  • Brian February 17, 2017 at 8:10 am

    Mayor Pike, tourism wouldn’t be affected, because the same amount of people would still be touring. They would just be sleeping somewhere else. The difference would be that lots of people would be making a little money instead of a few people making a lot of money. In other words, John and Jane Q. Public are less likely to donate to your campaign and go golfing with you?

    I’m for limited government, and that means less regulation. Short-term rentals for owner occupied homes isn’t a problem. There is one near me and you’d never know it except the lady mentions it from time to time, saying how much she enjoys meeting people from all over the world. Times are tough right now and this is helping them survive (which yes, is bad for the real estate industry because it means they aren’t being forced to move, robbing the world of that real estate transaction and it’s associated taxes; oh, the humanity!).

    I fully support this bill, as long as it only applies to owner-occupied homes. There are real problems with short-term rentals that aren’t owner occupied (loud parties, drugs, etc), but that doesn’t seem to happen when the owner is right down the hall.

  • semantics? February 17, 2017 at 11:19 am

    I totally disagree and amopposed to HB 253. I have a few objections, and have emailed Representative Knotwell to express my opposition.

    • I do not understand why the state legislature is undertaking to dictate something to the entire state that can and is currently being locally handled. This is a local issue and not a State issue. The vacation rental needs are totally different to St. George than in Herriman or Brigham City. This issue hugely impacts us and should be handled locally.
    • My family and I have been wakened at midnight by short termers looking for the right address.
    • The bill forces the policing to go to neighbors when there are complaints. We don’t want to have to police rental businesses in our neighborhoods by calling the police.
    • My neighbors are retired and nervous about who is coming next door. I recognize that the bill facially deals with owner occupied homes, yet there is no effective mechanism to stop problem homes. How will the city ever be able to get rid of a problem when it is “kind of legal” or the owners, 9th great nephew (supposedly) is in the group and “watching the house” for their 9th great aunt and uncle while they are away.
    • In St. George, the government already has difficulty determining which homes are primary and which are secondary for tax purposes. If we can’t get a handle on that, how is the state going to enforce that the “owner” is occupying the home with the short term renter. Our local code enforcement officer isn’t exactly loved in the community.
    • Follow the money. I presume our representatives are getting hit up by lobbyists saying what a great thing is for homeowners, and they are paid to say so. This bill is more about Airbnb and VRBO and the like than the widow down the street. Make no mistake, this is a gateway bill, is the next year or two another bill will include absentee owner short term rentals; “VRBO” will be back.
    • If a renter gets hurt on the property, insurance likely will not cover a casualty loss. Running a short term rental business out of your home, and having a paid renter get hurt, will likely not be covered due to the “business exclusions” portion of the homeowners policy.
    • The bill totally eliminated the possibility of having a true “single family” zone. I have done extensive work to my home for family. This bill means I can not go anywhere and not have a hotel or business providing bed and breakfast services next door unless I want to get some distance and put my home in the middle of a field somewhere.
    In the end, the question is about who gets to decide. In a state where the cry is often that the feds are taking too much control, it is laughable that we are not arguing that our local city council and county commission should not be snubbed by the state. If Herriman wants them, great. There is no difference in using a portion for my home regularly for rental income than running an engine repair shop out of a “portion” of my garage, or setting up a small donuts and coffee shop out of a “portion” of my living room. This bill is about money let’s be honest about it.

    • Alrighty Then February 17, 2017 at 5:15 pm

      The reason the state has to step in and try to solve this problem is because the City will not have any outside perspective. Also let’s say you have some friends coming to town and need a place to stay so you volunteer your house and they leave you some money to get it cleaned or cover the food they had when they were there, would you consider that wrong? Judging you what you said that would be a problem because it is no longer a single family home.

      Also if someone is at the house then the person can just call them for directions or meet them somewhere and take them there so that they don’t risk knocking on your door to ask for some help (because clearly that is too hard for you to do, help someone find directions).

      Your point about the insurance and injury is good however they could make a rule that they must have the same insurance any other short term renter would have to take care of any damage or problems.

      Also you are mad that there would be no “single family zones” however how do you know if the home next to you is a single family home? If they have someone come to visit them and stay there then is it still a single family home? Under your conditions no because there is more than one family staying there for a short period of time.

      You also refer to police having to go to a house when there is a complaint and how that would be extra money, news for you even right now if there is a complaint the police will go check it out so nothing would change in that matter.

      Your points all seem to be easy to work around however it seems like you, just like some other people, will not allow progress of any form to happen because you are worried it might change one small aspect of your life. It might make you learn how to accept the reality that you cannot rule over every person and every aspect of their lives. In all reality if the person is paying for the house and it is theirs then who are you to tell them what they can or cannot do inside of it?

  • [email protected] February 17, 2017 at 11:36 am

    I may be the only person who sees the irony in this minor dust up.
    After regularly riding through: St. George, Hurricane, Ivins, Santa Clara, and Washington City, I find it hard to believe that there are Code Enforcement officers on the payroll of any of these municipalities. Frankly, in my experience, the only noticeable differences occur when you transition into a Planned Unit Development, or subdivision, that has CC&Rs, which appear to be enforced.

    Property values are impacted by numerous factors, including the desirability of a particular neighborhood. I would recommend that our municipal leaders explore how they could clean up the blight that appears to be allowed within their city limits, and forget about policing nightly rentals, especially when the owner occupies the home.

  • utahdiablo February 18, 2017 at 12:55 am

    Hell no to Daily Rentals…Renters don’t give a damn about a rental home, no skin in the game

  • Joshua April 19, 2018 at 10:05 pm

    Brian nails it above

    “I fully support this bill, as long as it only applies to owner-occupied homes. There are real problems with short-term rentals that aren’t owner occupied (loud parties, drugs, etc), but that doesn’t seem to happen when the owner is right down the hall.”


    For some of us renting out extra space it’s the only way we can afford to live in a beautiful place like St.George or the mountains Please don’t punish an actual real world little guy just trying to survive somewhere they care very much about.

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