At county meetings, residents wary of new rental regulations

Posted 9/17/19

As Park County commissioners consider whether they need to regulate short-term rentals in the rural parts of the county, they sought out public input. They found no shortage of opinions at a series …

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At county meetings, residents wary of new rental regulations


As Park County commissioners consider whether they need to regulate short-term rentals in the rural parts of the county, they sought out public input. They found no shortage of opinions at a series of five public meetings in Powell, Cody, Wapiti, the South Fork and Clark.

That included hearing from many property owners who want to continue renting out their homes, rooms, cabins or apartments for as short as one night at a time without any new regulations.

Between an initial Aug. 22 meeting at the Park County Fairgrounds and a final one at the Clark Fire Hall last week, scores of local residents weighed in.

“I would say most people would prefer no regulation or minimal, minimal regulation,” Park County Planning Director Joy Hill said of her general sense of the comments. “I think people can see the benefit to having some kind of reporting in place, just so we know where they [short-term rentals] are, but nobody wants them, like, regulated down to their underwear, obviously.”

While commenters leaned toward being anti-regulation, Hill said there were also remarks from the other side, that “we probably need to do something, because doing nothing is not fair to the other businesses … who have to get a permit.”

Hill added that there were two very different conversations in Clark and Wapiti. In Wapiti, “where there’s a lot of violations, not everybody’s real happy with their neighbor out there,” she said. But in Clark, where residences tend to be more spread out, Hill said “people asked like five times, ‘Why are we even here?’”

Park County commissioners began discussing short-term rentals last year, after receiving complaints about trespassing, parking problems and residences advertised as being able to house more guests than septic systems might be able to handle.

Among the roughly 112 sites that the county is aware of, “several short-term rentals are causing nuisances around the county,” assistant planner Kim Dillivan said at the outset of the Powell meeting.

However, during the public comment period, short-term rental owners generally made the case that the market will regulate itself and weed out problems.

“You only need a couple of bad reviews and you’re not going to be renting,” said Deirdre Cozzens of Ralston, who rents out several properties through Airbnb.

“I just don’t think there’s any need for regulations,” she said. “I think we self-regulate, because it is good for us and it’s good for everybody else.”

She and others said that not only do property owners aim to please their guests, the guests are also careful to behave, so as not to draw a bad review from their host.

In fact, Cherie Fisher of Cody — who owns one Airbnb site in Powell and plans to open a second — said her properties have been treated better since she switched to short-term stays.

Fisher’s long-term renters abused the property and “destroyed our home every six months to a year,” she said, but “you don’t witness this with a short-term renter with a worldwide reputation [to protect].”

Cherie Fisher and other property owners talked positively about the people they’ve been able to meet and the extra income short-term renting has provided — helping put kids through college, enabling families to own a second home and supplementing retirement income.

The owners also said they’re boosting Park County’s economy, between hiring workers to clean and maintain their homes to creating a favorable impression with visiting tourists.

Gary White, who rents out a small cabin east of Powell, said he’s filling a need for travelers who are looking for a more unique experience or wanting to pay less “than the tourist rates of Park County hotels.”

Vicki Clingman of Cody added that her guests are “thrilled that they can stay at a home for half the price of a hotel ... and they go into town and spend their money.”

Cody Lodging Company manages around 65 properties, handles some 800 reservations and hosts roughly 3,200 people, said Rick Fisher, who co-owns the company with his wife Sandi.

Rick Fisher, along with Clingman, spoke favorably of the City of Cody’s regulations, describing them as common sense safety measures. The regulations require a $25 annual fee and an inspection every three years to check for things like working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, proper egress windows, combustibles kept away from heat sources and visible address numbers.

Rick Fisher also agreed with the general concept of requiring property owners to notify neighbors when they begin offering short-term rentals, but he wondered how much say a neighbor should be given if the property owner complies with the rules.

Justin Dollard, an Airbnb owner who lives in rural Cody, echoed that concern.

“Just because I’ve got somebody way down the road that doesn’t necessarily like a short-term rental, does that mean they can come back and complain or hold up my permit process or keep me from getting a permit?” Dollard asked, rhetorically.

He was among those who expressed a general wariness of new county rules.

“Regulations are a pain, and a lot of time they don’t serve a whole lot of purpose except taking a lot of time,” said Brian O’Neill of Powell, who rents a Crandall property through VRBO. O’Neill also questioned how the county — which does not currently have any kind of building inspector — would enforce the rules.

“I can tell you we’re already challenged ... with how do you enforce what we have right now,” planner Hill agreed at the conclusion of the Powell meeting. Hill said the primary aim is to address the health, safety and welfare of county residents and visitors.

The members of the Park County Planning and Zoning Commission plan to discuss the recent feedback at their regular meeting tonight (Tuesday). That board will eventually provide recommendations to county commissioners, who will decide what, if any, regulations to create for the rural portions of the county.

Separately, the Powell City Council has been considering how it wants to regulate short-term rentals within city limits.

“We are still on hold with that ordinance,” Powell City Clerk Tiffany Brando said Monday. “Our attorneys are reviewing and waiting to see what the county will do.”