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Short-term retnals may be long-term discussion

June 02, 2010 | 08:19 AM
The issue of short-term home rentals was neither moved forward nor brushed off by the County Zoning Agency last month.

The committee approved revisiting the issue at its next meeting, scheduled for June 17.

A potential change in the county ordinance would allow residential homes to be rented for less than 30 days, but more than seven days.

The main reason for the delay in decision is to decide how the ordinance can be enforced. The Zoning Agency is expected to work with local enforcement agencies to find solutions.

"I have heard people both in favor and opposed to this," Supervisor Dave Weber said at the May 20 agency meeting. "Those folks who are vehemently opposed have a legitimate concern about the people who may be staying in their neighbor's homes. Some have neighbors who may already be in violation of the existing (30-day) law. And there are people who seem to believe there is a failure of enforcement when it comes to this law."

He said the question of whether the law should be changed comes down to "what reasonable level of enforcement can we expect?"

The issue should only move forward for a public hearing and possible approval if that question can be answered, Weber said.

He also suggested parameters be put in place, possibly including how many properties in a certain number of miles may be allowed to rent short-term.

Supervisor Russ Wardle says there are two sides to the issue that deserve consideration.

"This is a classic case of the rights of the individual, on one hand the right to use your home as you'd like and the neighbors' rights of quiet and to not have their property devalued by surrounding homes," he said. "I would hate to see this be blown off and just leave it as it is without taking a look. If there needs to be a change in the enforcement system, maybe there is a way to do that along with the ordinance. I think this is worth wrestling with."

Wardle suggested homeowners of short-term rentals have to enter into a one-year agreement and be reviewed every year.

However, Michael Cotter, director of county Land Use and Resource Management, said the problem comes in trying to find out who is renting short-term to begin with.

"Many folks are already doing this and it's hard to just go and look for it," he said. "It's really hard to find unless we get a complaint."

And even when there is a complaint, he said many neighbors back off when it comes to testifying against a neighbor.

Also, when there is a tip that someone may be renting out their home, oftentimes the homeowner uses the excuse that the guests are family, which can be difficult to dispute, Cotter said.

Walworth County Chairwoman Nancy Russell said she is against changing the law just because it is currently being violated.

"Keep in mind, zoning is for the public good," she said. "The public already has bed and breakfasts, and a key difference is there is an owner on site at all times. I've heard too many horror stories and lived through a few of my own, and I don't think we should condone this behavior. We'll be taking away business from those who are properly paying room, sales and higher property taxes."

She said it's hard to believe a change in the ordinance would make those dishonestly renting out their homes honest room and sales taxpayers.

There also was a suggestion that an entirely new zoning classification may have to be made if municipalities were not OK with approving the change with just conditional use permits.

Weber also suggested raising the citation amount for renting shorter than the allowed time period may deter some of the illegal activity if needed.

Cotter said the issue should be on the June 17 agenda, and there will be discussion on how to regulate short-term rentals or the board could decide if the ordinance should remain as it is.

If the County Zoning Agency passes it onto the County Board, there will be a public hearing for the public to express their opinions on the issue before it would be changed.

"This discussion could take a majority of the summer," Cotter said.

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