Pine Valley owners wonder if new short-term rental orders are unfair for some – St George News
La Maison Rouge, owned by the Smith family, Pine Valley, Utah, November 5, 2021 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News
ST. GEORGE – Pine Valley landlords are trying to understand the short-term rental ordinances passed by the Washington County Commission in early October.
The new ordinances require landlords who manage short-term rentals meet the new requirements, which include a mandate that absent landlords must have a local property management company to oversee their property.
They must also post signs on their units identifying the owner of the building and a phone number for a property manager who is available 24/7, and they must have off-street parking available for vacation tenants.
These new requirements, said homeowners who spoke to St. George News, may not be viable for all homeowners and may even unfairly punish some. While one family earns a living from short-term rentals, for example, another earns just enough to make ends meet.
The Sullivans: Finding a Balance Between Business and Community
Sullivan said she and her partners – her husband and sister – earn the lion’s share of their livelihood through short-term rentals. Sullivan ran a successful short-term rental business in Park City, northern Utah. The idea of âârunning her own short-term rentals, she says, came to her in 2003.
âMy sister and I booked a short-term rental in Park City for a change of scenery,â Sullivan said. âWe loved the idea of ââbeing able to stay in a unique house almost anywhere in the world. And we wanted to offer this service to travelers looking for an alternative to hotels.
So she and her sister bought and managed eight short-term rentals in Park City. In 2015, they decided to move to Pine Valley to be closer to their family. They sold their properties in Park City, then bought a property in Pine Valley. One of those properties, Sullivan said, was an “eyesore to Lloyd Canyon”. They demolished a double-decker trailer and built a small cottage in its place that can accommodate six people.
Since then, the Sullivans have made a living by renting out their three short-term rentals. But, said Sullivan, it’s always been important to balance business with the needs of the community.
âThat’s why we try to keep our business and our properties small,â she said. “We don’t want the wear and tear of party animals, and we don’t want 30 vehicles spilling onto the streets.”
Sullivan said it holds three of the five currently registered short-term rental business licenses in Pine Valley, so its operation will be grandfathered under the new order. But Sullivan wondered if the ordinances passed by the Washington County Commission were out of touch. Especially for homeowners who don’t live on the property all year round and can try to offset the costs of their home.
“To have that suddenly cut off source of income,” Sullivan said, “it must sting.”
The Smiths: trying to break even
Joseph and Katie Smith dreamed of owning a property in Pine Valley, as Katie’s parents had had it for as long as she can remember.
Joseph Smith is the director of human resources at the Tuacahn Center for the Arts, while Katie is the artistic director of the Southwest Dance Company. Their dream came true when they bought the Red House on Main Street.
âWe have enjoyed our second home for years,â Joseph Smith told St. George News. âWe were thrilled when Katie found a way to generate additional income, which would go a long way towards paying our property taxes, as well as the summer water bill. “
But Katie Smith said that while she has spent a lot of time and effort building a stable and viable customer base, she does not have a business license. AirBnB, Smith noted, pays the taxes on behalf of the hosts.
âWe’re not slammed with business,â she said. âWe don’t make a ton of money. But what we earn really helps us break even every year. “
To that end, Smith said she worries a bad apple will ruin the bushel. She only had one bad guest, which she reported to AirBnB. For its part, AirBnB may ban certain customers who flagrantly violate their policies. For minor infractions, a negative review from an owner like Smith is often enough to warn future hosts of consistently problematic guests.
âWe have rules and guidelines,â Smith said. “We do not allow parties or unruly guests, which we control before renting to them.”
The irony, Joseph Smith added, was that county commissioners often tout the importance of property rights, as they pass those ordinances that undermine those values.
âIt feels like we’re all being punished for one or two bad cases,â said Joseph Smith. âWhatever happens, we’ll find a solution. But my wife built a great little business, and maybe she’s gone. I just wish it wasn’t.
Washington County Commissioner Gil Almquist said the county is in the early stages of a feasibility study to determine how the ordinance will affect homeowners and their communities. Still, he said he didn’t feel much sympathy for landowners who operate small businesses without a license.
âWe want to explore ways to ensure that the laws we pass are fair,â Almquist told St. George News. âBut if you’re making a profit, you’re running a business. And business owners must obtain a business license.
Almquist spoke of a time in 1984 when his small landscaping business was starting to take off.
âI could have chosen to fly under the radar,â Almquist said, âbut I decided to get my license.â
“If you forget to get a license,” he continued, “we can’t help you.”
Author, educator and hospitality consultant Julie Davies agrees with Almquist on the need for short-term rental hosts to have business licenses and be subject to code compliance. But she said the current prescriptions are based on misinformation.
“Which,” Davies told St. George News, “may be from AirBnB.”
âWe have to remember that AirBnB is a reservation service provider,â Davies continued. âThey act like they’re doing everything for you, but they don’t. They are not responsible for remitting taxes to the appropriate entities, and they do not include licenses when you sign up to host your homes.
Ultimately, Davies said, if landlords do the right thing, if they don’t disturb their neighbors or the community, they should be allowed to manage their rentals on a short-term basis. It doesn’t mean they can do whatever they want just because they own a property, she said. For Davies, there is no such thing as “passive income” because property owners and managers “have to be proactive in making sure they follow the code.”
âThe county needs to strike a balance between adopting reasonable ordinances, which will allow good hosts to obtain their licenses,â she said. âIt’s an emerging industry that needs to be regulated, but the current regulations are unreasonable. “
“They will get good hosts out of the game,” she added. âThen their reservation calendars will go to the bad hosts operating under the radar. It’s bad for business and the community in the long run.
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