Several months ago the Idaho Freedom Foundation began covering the home-sharing issue in the city of Rexburg. IFF reported that the city terminated the ability of its residents to become Airbnb hosts and issued cease-and-desist letters to those who were already Airbnb hosts.
Following blogs and articles on the topic, IFF has received numerous emails from residents testifying to the importance, need and desire for Rexburg to again allow its residents to host Airbnb guests.
In previous writings, the Foundation focused primarily on Airbnb hosts living in Rexburg. However, IFF has also received emails from Airbnb hosts living in Idaho Falls who discussed the effect Rexburg’s decision has had on their experience hosting guests in their city.
Jim and Harriet Smith are a couple in their 70s and recent transplants to Idaho Falls. The couple bought a fairly large home only to discover that it had several maintenance issues. A family member encouraged the couple to consider Airbnb as a way to generate revenue to help pay for the repairs.
Jim was adamantly against the idea of hosting strangers in their home, but in the end he decided “happy wife, happy life” and agreed to host Airbnb guests. In the weeks to come, Jim did a complete 180-degree turn and started to love the experience.
One of the Smith’s experiences addresses a concern in Rexburg: a shortage of short-term accommodations. The one time the Smiths filled all three of their guest rooms was during BYU-I freshmen orientation. All three rooms were filled with students and parents who were unable to find accommodations closer to Rexburg.
However, Jim and Harriet’s time as hosts was short lived: Their Homeowners Association (HOA) determined, in an emergency meeting, which Jim and Harriet were not invited to, that hosting Airbnb guests was a “nuisance.” The HOA agreement defines nuisance as, “No noxious or offensive activity shall be carried on upon any lot, nor shall anything thereon which is an annoyance or a nuisance to the neighborhood.”
However, it is highly unlikely that Jim and Harriet's guests provided any nuisance. In fact, their guests don't even park on the public street. And Jim and Harriet's guests have included a minister in charge of missions in Zimbabwe and Ethiopia, two couples from Shanghai (one on their honeymoon), a gentleman in town for his first grandchild’s baptism, and a couple from the UK.
Airbnb hosts in conflict with HOA agreements is a concern that people in Idaho Falls and Rexburg have raised in public testimony and private discussion. HOAs challenging Airbnb activities is nothing new. In fact, several of the opponents of Airbnb at the Rexburg City Council cited their HOA covenants as justification to prevent Airbnb hosting. Additionally, Idaho city councils, like in Rexburg, are attempting to restrict Airbnb activities under unclear, existing zoning laws that no have definitions that can address the nuance of Airbnbs.
However, what has not been addressed at Idaho city council, HOA meetings, or planning and zoning meetings is a state law that was passed during the 2016 legislative session. House Bill 511 passed with the specific purpose of protecting the private rights of Idaho homeowners, ensuring their right to rent their property is preserved.
The language in House Bill 511 specifically says:
No homeowner's association may add, amend or enforce any covenant, condition or restriction in such a way that limits or prohibits the rental, for any amount of time, of any property, land or structure thereon within the jurisdiction of the homeowner's association, unless expressly agreed to in writing at the time of such addition or amendment by the owner of the affected property. Nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent the enforcement of valid covenants, conditions or restrictions limiting a property owner's right to transfer his interest in land or the structures thereon so long as that covenant, condition or restriction applied to the property at the time the homeowner acquired his interest in the property.
So while city councils, planning and zoning committees, HOAs and others dither over Airbnbs, people like Jim and Harriet appear to have legal standing, through Idaho state law, to host as many ministers, honeymooners and BYU-I parents as they would like.