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Salt Lake County may pass a tough tourist-home ordinance that could put an estimated 200 tourist-home operators out of business or force them to rent their homes covertly.

The proposed ordinance bans tourist homes in Emigration, Parleys and Millcreek canyons, along the foothills and in most neighborhoods in the valley.The ordinance would also ban tourist homes in Big Cottonwood and Little Cottonwood canyons if those homes have a septic tank instead of a sewer hookup.

The 1990 tourist-home ordinance permits tourist homes in the three canyons and the foothills, said John Newell, senior planner for the county.

The Salt Lake County Planning Commission approved the new ordinance last month. The County Commission is slated to vote on it Sept. 4.

Frustrated tourist home owners urged the commission at a recent public hearing not to adopt the ordinance.

"This will force people deeper underground than they already are, and you will never get them to the surface. You will spend the next 10 years chasing them," said Robin Roller, president of Utah Lodging Association, a group of about 40 tourist home owners who rent approximately 100 homes.

Less than 100 tourist home owners in the county have the license required to rent a home out to ski parties and other tourists, Newell said. But the lack of a license isn't stopping anyone.

"We've heard stories that there are hundreds out there, like 300," he said.

Many homeowners began renting their homes out secretly to tourists after the county passed a 1990 law restricting the areas where homes could be rented to vacationers. For example, the ordinance only allows a duplex or a four-plex to be a licensed tourist rental if it's on a road that is at least 66 feet wide. Curious duplex owners tossed a measuring tape across their roads and found that most weren't wide enough.

But they rented anyway.

The county last year refused to issue any new tourist home licenses while it considered a new ordinance. The county tinkered with the old law after receiving several complains from neighbors about loud parties, narrow streets clogged with cars, piles of trash and nudity.

During the license moratorium, even more homeowners began renting their homes to tourists. One owner explained to the Deseret News that even though licenses weren't given last year, he started operating a quiet, successful tourist home that winter for the first time. He collected room tax from his guests and didn't receive a single complaint from neighbors, he said.

His home would not be legal under the proposed ordinance. He's going to rent it out anyway. "I'll continue to operate it discreetly as I did last year,"he said.

Under the old law, operating a tourist home without a license was a Class C misdemeanor. Now, it will just be a civil penalty, Newell said. "But we don't have a fee structure set up yet."

But the tourist home owners at the county's hearing don't like being outside the law. They urged the commission to either change the ordinance to allow tourist homes in some residential neighborhoods or give existing homeowners six months to get a license, even if their location doesn't meet the standards of the new or old law.

Otherwise, homeowners will continue to rent secretly. Rick Walton, vice president of Utah Lodging Association, operates a home without a license. He talked with county staff before buying his home and was told "on a busy street like that, you should be OK," Walton recounted. So he began renting to tourists.

Then he found out that his tourist home didn't meet the 1990 statute. He continued to rent it. If the proposed law passes, Walton's operation would still be illegal. His house is in an R-1 zone. The proposed law bans tourist homes in all R-1 zones, even those on busy streets like Bengal Boulevard, Fort Union Boulevard or Holladay Boulevard.

It also bans tourist homes in all planned unit developments in the duplex zones. "Period. No matter what." The old law allowed some exceptions.

The members of the lodging association want a little compassion from the county. Tourist homes that have been operating since 1990 should be grand-fathered in under the new law, even if they are in the wrong place, urged Rollins.

Walton wants more freedom than that. His home wouldn't meet the criteria suggested by Robbins because Walton's only been in business for two years. He wants the county to give existing illegal tourist home owners six months to come in and get a license, regardless of where their homes are. After those six months, new tourist-home buyers must abide by the limitations of the ordinance.

Cindy Furse, a member of a task force that studied the issue, urged the county to only let in illegal tourist-home owners if they have collected and paid room tax.

"Make them show receipts," she urged the commission. "If they are law-abiding citizens paying their taxes, perhaps they deserve a window of opportunity."

"We need to be grandfathered in," pleaded Sharon Walton, Rich Walton's wife. "We have spent a lot of time and money on our business."

Homeowners urged the county to act quickly. They are already getting calls about the upcoming ski season and need to know if they can legally rent out their homes.