A Butte-Silver Bow commissioner says short-term vacation rentals are taking off in Butte and there are great things about that, but he wants “common sense” regulations in place for the well-being of residents and tourists alike.
“It is our duty to consider the benefits of this growing rental model while contemplating how to preserve local culture and keep local residents and businesses from being priced out or burdened by this new industry,” Shawn Fredrickson said in a recent letter to fellow commissioners.
He has asked commissioners to join county officials and department heads in exploring the issue in Butte and drawing up regulations and guidelines that fit here. A council committee will get that started Wednesday night, but the process could take weeks or longer.
“We are in the very, very early stages so if people have concerns, let us know,” Fredrickson said. “We are not trying to rush anything through.”
Numerous cities and counties across the country and several in Montana, including Columbia Falls, Bozeman and Missoula, have regulations requiring those renting out homes or apartments for short-term stays to register, pay fees and abide by certain rules.
In Columbia Falls, there are limits on number of guests, there must be a local contact person who is responsible should problems arise, fire officials must certify adequate smoke detectors and ways to escape, and each unit must have two off-street parking spaces.
The city also requires adherence to local zoning laws.
The regulations follow a boom in short-term rentals in recent years, especially outside of national parks or other tourist attractions. Rental services such as Airbnb and VRBO act as brokers, listing apartments, condos or entire homes available for short-term stays.
On Tuesday, Airbnb listed 135 short-term rentals in Butte or nearby areas. They included $41 a night to stay in someone’s furbished basement, $45 a night for a “Greek Consulate Suite” in Uptown, and entire houses, many for $200 a night or more.
They bring tourists and their pocketbooks to communities, of course, but they can also bring rowdy guests, drive up home values and rental rates beyond the reach of actual residents and change the character of neighborhoods.
Fredrickson says short-term rentals are a great option for tourists and those renting to them and it’s really taken off in Butte the past few years. He has a couple of friends who rent out places on a short-term basis and “they are almost booked out every weekend, at least in the summer,” he said.
On the flip side, a house in his neighborhood was recently rented out to a construction crew that was in Butte for a couple of weeks before heading to the next job in another town. They got rowdy at times.
“They had a good time, let’s just say that,” Fredrickson said. “They worked, they had a good time and moved on.”
They didn’t bother him so much, he said, but some neighbors said they didn’t know who they were and the homeowners didn’t leave a contact number so they or someone on their behalf locally could intervene without police being called.
He wants the council to consider guidelines that could include:
• An initial fee to license a vacation rental within the county.
• An inspection of the premises by a county official to ensure basic safety requirements such as smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and a one-page document explaining water, electrical and gas shut-off locations and where to exit in case of a fire.
• A county license being displayed near the front door.
• A best-practices guide for rental owners to deal with neighbors and leave contact information in case problems arise with guests.
• Establish yearly renewal fees.
• Authorize random safety inspections and fines for renting without a license.
Fredrickson said those are only suggested guidelines. County officials might determine, for example, that they lack the resources to inspect every short-term rental unit. Some cities require at least two parking spaces, but that might not be practical in Butte.
“That is why I put in there ‘to consider’ some guidelines,” he said.
Fredrickson said he would like to see some regulations and guidelines in place by next summer, and they can be revised in future years as trends and issues here become more evident.
It seems certain that Butte will attract more and more tourists, he said, and that is a good thing.
“All the more reason to take a look at this,” he said.
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