COEUR d’ALENE — Despite an earful of testimony from investors, property owners and members of the real estate community, Coeur d’Alene City Council members approved a resolution this week to regulate short-term rentals in the city.
After years of prohibiting short-term, vacation rentals, often used for one or two-day stays in residential areas, council members complied with a new state law that forbids the city’s prohibition.
The plan that was approved Tuesday by a 4-2 vote legalizes vacation rentals according to a state mandate, but it also lays out rules establishing occupancy, parking, management of the units, permitting and standards for the short-term housing.
City Council member Dan Gookin, who brought the measure to the council several years ago, said the ordinance that was approved at Tuesday’s council meeting was a mess.
“A lot about the ordinance offends me,” said Gookin, who along with council member Ron Eddinger cast the council’s dissenting votes.
One of Gookin’s criticisms of short-term rentals is their tendency to drive up the cost of affordable housing, he said.
A lot of the properties near downtown have turned into vacation rentals, which can unthread the fabric of neighborhoods.
Gookin said although the city had in the past outlawed vacation rentals, they have nonetheless been rampant for years, and enforcement of the city code has been non-existent.
“My goal was to make them legal,” he said.
Legalizing them, however, comes with the cost of regulation, and that brought out dozens of protesters Tuesday to voice concern over what they considered was too much control by the city.
Holly Hansen, who lives in Coeur d’Alene’s Fort Grounds neighborhood surrounded by three vacation rentals and a long-term rental, said complaints regarding unruliness among vacation renters are unfounded.
“Having long-term rentals on our street has been a nightmare versus vacation homes,” Hansen said.
Since some of the long-term rentals in her neighborhood were converted to vacation rentals, she said, “It’s been more quiet than it’s ever been, and the houses are maintained and the front yards look wonderful, and the people who stay there are lovely, because they are on vacation and they are happy.”
Long-term rentals were rife with problems including the junk that renters left behind.
“Yards aren’t maintained, there’s dandelions growing, there’s a car that’s been abandoned that’s sitting on the street even though we have parking permits down there,” said Hansen, a real estate agent who also owns vacation properties. “I’m all for the fact that I’d much rather live next to a vacation home than a long-term rental any day, and I can say that from 15 years of experience in the heart of Coeur d’Alene.”
Realtor Tom Torgerson questioned why the city was attempting to dictate how owners use their property.
“I don’t know why the city needs to be involved in the economics of a private enterprise decision,” Torgerson said.
He lauded council members and city planners for loosening restrictions since the idea of regulation was first floated and planners — Torgerson was instrumental in lobbying the city on the behalf of property owners — worked on a draft ordinance.
“This (ordinance) has been pared down significantly, and we appreciate it a lot,” he said.
Torgerson took issue with some of the details, including how many days should be required for a minimal stay.
“I don’t think there should be any minimum number of stays,” he said. “I think that market has to predicate that.”
Torgerson objected to the clause that required property owners to occupy a premises for six months before turning it over to vacationers.
“What are you going to do if they’re not?” He asked. “We’re kind of a high-end transient community ... We’ve become a Sun Valley, a Jackson Hole, a Park City … trying to police how long an owner is or isn’t in their own home seems a bit onerous.”
After council members adopted the ordinance, with the exception of doing away with the minimum-stay clause, council member Amy Evans said the measure is meant as middle ground between a hands-off approach and over-regulation.
“It’s critical we have a balance and maintain the integrity of our community,” Evans said. “We were trying to strike that balance.”
At its next meeting, the council must set a permit fee and fee schedule for vacation rentals.