When you think of Utah, what comes to mind? For me, the picturesque landscapes and impressive natural wonders are the first things I think of. The wide-open spaces and smaller cities and towns make Utah an ideal place for those looking for something new. While Utah may be considered the youngest state by population, it is growing in popularity for older Americans looking to settle down.

Retirees are flocking to places like Utah, with quiet towns and a multitude of attractions for older community members. Spending time in the great outdoors and in Utah’s national parks are major draws among retirement communities. The state also boasts a great economy, low cost of living and low crime rate.

As Utah becomes a more favorable destination for travelers and permanent residents alike, governments are still learning to navigate the state’s growth. Short-term rentals are one way vacationers choose to experience Utah, and they are becoming more prevalent in the state as investors and homeowners capitalize on Utah’s growing popularity.

However, an influx of investor-run, short-term rentals can bring higher home prices and even crime. Last year, a man in Ogden was arrested for allegedly threatening to kill a woman and holding her against her will at a short-term rental. And perhaps one of most egregious crimes committed at a Utah short-term rental was a man charged with sex trafficking of an underage girl outside of Salt Lake City in 2020.

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While extreme cases like these don’t happen often, residents have a right to know how short-term rentals can potentially attract problems — from loud parties and disruptive behavior, to serious crimes. These are real issues stemming from short-term rentals that change the fabric many of these towns were built on.

State and local governments are exploring ways to regulate short-term rentals to cut down on nuisance behaviors and fight back against increased home prices. Unfortunately, many states are choosing top-down, one-size-fits-all laws dictating how local governments can address this problem. A bill before the Utah Legislature, HB291, does attempt to establish local control but in doing so, dictates that any participating county or municipality must allow short-term rentals in 80% of its total land area — the vast majority of any town. This policy would no doubt lead to a proliferation of short-term rentals, creating more problems for residents — especially seniors — who simply want to enjoy a familiar neighborhood with other long-term or permanent residents.

No one knows the ins and outs of their community better than local governments, who are well-versed in the challenges of their towns and can respond accordingly. State laws that do not allow for the nuances of each town to be taken into consideration and put the interests of property investors ahead of local communities would set a dangerous precedent in Utah.

Utah residents and retirees made the choice to put down roots in the Beehive State. They should not be forced to contend with rowdy parties and increased crime due to short-term rentals and an influx of strangers week to week. By allowing unregulated short-term rentals to continue multiplying with limited oversight, we encroach on the property rights and sense of stability in Utah communities.

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Senior citizens are often the ones who suffer the most due to weak short-term rental regulations. Because they are on fixed incomes, an increase in home prices or rent can drive them out of the housing market altogether. To his credit, Gov. Spencer Cox recognizes this and spoke to the challenge of Utah’s nearly 20,000 short-term rentals limiting the supply of housing and driving up costs.

A stable neighborhood with familiar neighbors shouldn’t be a luxury, but something seniors can count on when picking a community to settle down in. A revolving door of strangers at a short-term rental does not create the sense of community that Utah seniors deserve. That’s why Utah lawmakers must avoid any state law that implements a top-down approach to these new challenges related to unregulated short-term rentals. Utah residents, and especially seniors, are counting on local control to confront this issue moving forward.

Saul Anuzis is president of the 60 PLUS Association and the American Association of Senior Citizens.