One Eastern Idaho city has threatened misdemeanor charges against some of its residents if they don't remove their homes from short-term home rental service Airbnb.
Rexburg city zoning ordinances ban residents living in low-density zones from renting spare rooms or entire homes on a short-term basis through services like Airbnb or VRBO.
IdahoReporter.com was forwarded a letter, sent March 10 by Rexburg City Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Brian H. Wood. The letter told the recipient, starting Monday, city officials will begin filing charges against violators.
“Beginning on March 20th, 2017, and on random dates thereafter, this office will search Airbnb.com for all housing located in Rexburg,” Wood wrote.
If Wood’s office finds a property listed, which is within city limits, he promises the listing party “will be be criminally charged for a violation of the zoning ordinance under Section 1.9 of the Rexburg Development Code.”
Rexburg City Attorney Stephen Zollinger confirmed the letter’s authenticity to IdahoReporter.com Monday and said it was sent at the city council’s request. Zollinger couldn’t confirm exactly how many residents received similar letters, but suggested his office sent as many as 10.
The letters are the latest salvo in a long-running dispute over short-term vacation rentals in the city. Last July, city officials notified residents that operating short-term rentals violates city zoning code. That led to numerous hearings, articles and neighborhood meetings to find a solution.
Proponents of short-term rentals of houses, or rooms in private homes, believe Airbnb brings new dollars to the college town and creates opportunities for missionary work, a significant benefit for the heavily-Mormon area. Detractors say the short-term rentals threaten residential home values and the fabric of the small community.
“It’s an issue where both sides have their concerns,” Zollinger said. “Both sides feel they hold the flag of property rights.”
When searched on March 20, Airbnb.com showed at least six unique rentals within Rexburg city limits for an overnight stay.
If violators continue to list their properties, Wood’s letter promises multiple charges.
“Each day such a violation continues beyond notice shall be considered a separate violation,” Wood wrote in the March 10 letter.
Zollinger recognizes both sides of the issue and the validity of opposing arguments.
He told IdahoReporter.com he knows of statistics or anecdotes that show short-term rentals threaten the health or safety of the community or its members.
Zollinger understands those who worry about a potential threat to home values and the makeup of the small community. He noted, many residents purchased homes in the city with the intent of raising their children in a family neighborhood and the operation of a short-term rental nearby would threaten that intent.
The Idaho Legislature could soon give Rexburg and other Idaho cities some guidance. On Monday, the Idaho Senate passed House Bill 216, which would prevent Gem State cities from prohibiting short-term rentals. The measure, having previously passed the House, now heads to Gov. Butch Otter’s desk for his consideration.
Zollinger said he was initially optimistic about the legislation, but worries that the language remains overly vague. He notes HB 216 would give the state pre-eminence on this issue, but it would still allow cities to regulate short-term rentals to ensure health, welfare and safety.
“Basically, that’s zoning,” Zollinger said.
See the letter below: