Summit County Council considers regulating nightly rentals amid influx of units

Around 22% of housing in Summit County is short-term rentals, according to staffers

An aerial photo of Old Town in Park City at dawn.
Park Record File Photo

With the rise in nightly lodgings and short-term rentals in Summit County, staffers are considering new ways to regulate the units and ease their growing concerns.

Over the past four years, Utah has experienced a 38.4% increase in short-term rentals and Summit County tops the list with the highest percentage of nightly units in the state, according to a report from the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute of the University of Utah. Representatives from the Summit County Attorney’s Office shared the research with the Summit County Council on Wednesday as they began contemplating options to mitigate the impact.

“We saw some statistics that indicate there’s been a dramatic increase of applications for licenses for short-term rentals,” said Lynda Viti, a deputy county attorney. “The reason we’re bringing this to you is because there is virtually nothing in our code to regulate these nightly rentals right now. At this point, you can bring in your application, pay your money and get your license, and that’s about it. And there’s no real regulation of health issues like unsanitary pools or bed bugs, there’s no issue of safety regulations.”

According to a staff report, around 22% of housing in Summit County is short-term rentals. Under the current Summit County Code, the only requirement for a nightly rental is for the owner to obtain a license, which includes their contact details and sales-tax collection information.

During 2019, there were 699 short-term rental applications in the county, Viti said, and the number increased to 916 applications so far this year. County Councilor Roger Armstrong estimated there could be up to 8,000 total short-term rentals in the county, which is a high estimate, but officials face challenges in tracking the actual number of units because many are not properly licensed.

Elected officials didn’t make any changes to the code on Wednesday but discussed passing a temporary ordinance to prohibit any new licenses from being issued in unincorporated Summit County while elected officials figure out the best course of action.

Local governments are prohibited from stopping rental operators from listing properties on websites like Airbnb and VRBO under state law but leaders can enforce other regulations. Examples could include limiting the number of guests permitted in a short-term rental, requiring health and fire inspections that are not mandated by the listing companies, issuing fines for improper licensure, and restricting where nightly rentals are allowed and how many can be in certain zones.

Although the County Council can’t become involved in an online posting for a short-term rental, it can investigate a unit if a complaint is filed. For example, if an ordinance is adopted that bans nightly rentals outright, staffers are not allowed to punish property owners for listing the units. However, if a neighbor reports a suspected short-term rental or claims there’s a violation, the county can intervene.

Ryan Stack, a member of the Heber City Council who helped craft an ordinance to regulate nightly rentals in the city, also provided some insight to the County Council. He said city officials opted for an ordinance after a single-family home became the “poster child” for improper nightly rentals. The single-family home was hosting dozens of guests, some of whom pitched tents on the front lawn, and prompted numerous complaints from neighbors.

County Councilor Doug Clyde said there was a similar situation in Summit County when 40 people were discovered inside an Airbnb, which led the fire marshal to “drag out” more than half of them.

“We’ve been there so it’s not new territory,” he said.

County officials said the example highlights concerns about how nightly rentals affect the character of a neighborhood and questioned whether instituting certain zoning in these areas would also help promote more affordable housing options or lodging for workers instead of visitors. County Councilor Roger Armstrong said staffers need to see this as an economic issue, not just a health and safety one.

Armstrong suggested that if the nightly rentals weren’t housing tourists, people with low to middle incomes would be able to rent the units instead of commuting or working elsewhere.

“I think we can make an argument that would resonate with other resort counties that something has to be done beyond just building additional housing,” he said.

Armstrong said a multidisciplinary group should come together to have a thoughtful, in-depth discussion before an ordinance is adopted. The County Council may consider stipulations such as limiting the number of days a nightly rental can be utilized, requiring an owner or property manager to be available at all times and other restrictions.

“You can pretty much do what you’d like,” Viti said. “We can craft it however you see fit to accommodate safety, health issues and the character of the neighborhood.”

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