Weber County leaders OK changes targeting disruptive short-term rentals
OGDEN — Weber County commissioners on Tuesday approved new guidelines governing short-term rentals in the Ogden Valley, aiming to help get a handle on the disruption they can cause.
At the same time, a member of the Utah House from Weber County says legislation is likely in the coming session to help address some of the issues surrounding short-term rentals, a headache for some but growing in popularity across Utah. Rules should be largely crafted at the local level, said Rep. Cal Musselman, but the state can “buoy” what local officials do, and that will be the aim of legislation he’s considering.
The proposed change Musselman is mulling would allow information culled from public advertising to be used in legal proceedings against improperly located short-term rentals. He’s also considering a new provision more explicitly spelling out that short-term rental operators must get a state sales tax license.
“This isn’t a witch hunt,” said Musselman, but an effort to reduce confusion surrounding short-term rental laws. Musselman, a West Haven Republican, headed an interim legislative study committee focused on short-term rentals.
Whatever the case, short-term rentals can be a thorn to the permanent residents who live around them and that’s been the case for some in the Ogden Valley. Three ski resorts in the area and Pineview Reservoir draw an increasing number of vacationers to short-term rentals — properties rented out to visitors typically for a month or less — and critics say they can be noisy, result in traffic issues, detract from a sense of community and more.
Short-term rentals can create tax revenue for the county, for sure, acknowledged Alan Wheelwright of Eden, one of many Ogden Valley residents who spoke in favor of the new guidelines before county commissioners took action on Tuesday. “But you won’t have the community. You won’t have the people who make it a great place to live,” he said.
Beyond the disruption, some operate short-term rentals outside the zones where they’re allowed.
The changes commissioners approved — in the works for around two years — keep the zones where short-term rentals are allowed in the Ogden Valley as is, assuaging concerns of some that they’d be allowed in more areas. They also include provisions aimed at the secondary effects of short-term rentals, creating new noise limits and restrictions on allowable parked cars, for instance.
Weber County Commissioner Jim Harvey said the rules are aimed at those who flout short-term rental guidelines. “We don’t want you here. We don’t want bad actors,” he said.
County Commissioner Gage Froerer said officials can’t halt development or forbid entry of new property owners. Rather, officials “need to control growth.”
Significantly, county commissioners last month hired a contractor to help enforce rules governing short-term rentals, Granicus of St. Paul, Minnesota. That, officials hope, will aid in efforts to address complaints — difficult now given limited county manpower — and help pinpoint more accurately where they are since some operators don’t properly register with the county, as they’re supposed to.
“This is more of a proactive step to reach out to folks to let them know what’s allowed and where,” said Bill Cobabe, a planner in the Weber County Planning Division.
Officials initially took up the ordinance changes on Dec. 20 but held off on action to look into the question of whether short-term rental operators outside the zone prescribed for such properties ought to be grandfathered in and allowed to keep operating. They ultimately passed on adding any sort of grandfather clause. Planning officials looked into whether other communities have included such provisions when updating short-term rental guidelines, Cobabe noted, finding none.
Musselman said the number of short-term rentals across Utah “absolutely exploded during the pandemic,” as people sought alternatives to hotels that allowed them to social distance from others. “The demand seems to have stayed high,” he went on.
The number of hotel rooms in Weber County doesn’t meet demand, giving rise to short-term rentals, according to Musselman. He estimates there are 800 short-term rentals in the county, with only 40 or so of them properly registered, underscoring the push for new guidelines.