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State senators argue over which ‘tyrant’ should rule on property rights for short-term rentals

SHARE State senators argue over which ‘tyrant’ should rule on property rights for short-term rentals
This Park City home often rents as an Airbnb.

Heidi Jaeger’s Park City home, which she often rents as an Airbnb, is seen on Friday, May 5, 2017. Arguments about state vs. local control and the definition of owner-occupied homes plagued a Senate committee Monday when a senator brought forth a bill that would mandate statewide approval for short-term rentals.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Arguments about state vs. local control and the definition of owner-occupied homes dominated a Senate committee discussing a bill to bar cities from prohibiting owner-occupied, short-term rentals.

“I have a fundamental principle behind property ownership: I hate HOAs. I really, by and large, hate it when another person tells me what I can do on my own property, in my home,” said SB221 sponsor Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi.

“Now, I get it. If I’m having off-site impacts, where I’m affecting other people, that’s one thing. But wherein I might be the owner-occupied, in my home, and I want to rent out a room in my basement, why shouldn’t I be able to?” he asked members of the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee in Monday’s hearing.

Under SB221, cities would not be able to prevent homes that are occupied by the owner from being rented out for a short time. These rentals are often seen in the form of Airbnb rentals.

Anderegg said bans on short-term rentals arise out of concern about negative impacts on neighborhoods, but his bill would prevent those by the fact the homeowner is there.

The change solves the “disconnect between the person who owns the home and the persons who are utilizing the property,” he said, noting “the owner of that property wouldn’t allow such shenanigans to happen, especially while they’re there.”

Committee Chairman Sen. Daniel McCay, R-Riverton, wanted the bill to move forward and unchanged but he was overruled by the rest of the committee in a vote 6-1.

In his mind, the crux of the issue is, “Which tyrant do I want to obey? Is it my local tyrant or my tyrant up on Capitol Hill or the tyrant in D.C.? Right? I guess I get to choose my tyrant.”

Erik Kirkham, of Sandy, picked his tyrant by staying in Sandy because of how the city treats short-term rentals.

“The short-term rental has enabled it so that my wife can stay home and be with our kids, as opposed to having to find another employment, to meet the bills and have the daily rigors of life and so forth,” he said.

Kirkham said they could move closer to his work but decided not to because those Utah cities were stricter on short-term rentals. He said his neighbors know they rent out their basement apartment and said their rental business hasn’t caused problems.

“We’ve elected not to move to those cities ... because we know that it can’t continue the lifestyle of utilizing our property how we see fit,” he said.

In Anderegg’s bill, Airbnb rentals would be acceptable statewide, overriding local ordinances if the property met the definition of owner-occupied.

But Grand County Attorney Christina Sloan called for clearer definitions of the term owner-occupied and how that would be different from owner-present.

“Does that mean it’s the intention that the owner needs to be in the home at the time of the rental?” Sloan asked. “Or is it sufficient for the owner staying there Monday through Friday and leaves for the weekend and short-term renters can have it for the weekend?”

Sloan said Grand County faces a housing shortage, with twice as many overnight accommodations as residential homes in the county due to high-trafficked tourist destinations and attractions like Moab.

If Anderegg’s bill passed as currently written, she said, local housing for residents who support the tourist and business economy availability would be decimated.

Another problem with the bill on short-term rentals, according to George Chapman, is enforcement.

“(Anderegg’s) bill assumes owner-occupied is actually easy to find and that’s the big problem. We have not been able, in Salt Lake City at least, been able to assure owner-occupied,” he said.

Chapman explained that a home in Salt Lake City was discovered to be solely filled through Airbnb rentals when someone was filing paperwork for building an accessory dwelling unit. He said cities rely on property owners to operate their short-term rentals on the honor system, causing the city the problem of enforcement.

The committee decided to hold the bill. As he exited the committee room, Anderegg said he’d work on better defining the phrase owner-occupied.