Jackson's short-term rental rules deemed 'unworkable'
September 22, 2022
JACKSON – Even the tech companies admit there’s a problem.
With the remote work revolution pushing more short-term rentals into rural communities, companies like Airbnb are starting to post advice to small local governments on how they can “benefit from the rise in remote workers.”
The Pew Research Center found that investors bought nearly a quarter of U.S. single-family homes sold in 2021, in many cases driving up rents for suburban families.
Destinations already facing a housing crunch are trying to curb those trends.
In Kauai, Hawaii, a “short- term” rental is defined as less than 180 days and prohibited outside of a designated “visitor” area.
Last week the tourist destination and fishing community of Sitka, Alaska, passed ordinances intended to only allow residents who live on their properties for at least six months a year to secure permits to offer short-term rentals. And those permits sunset when the property is sold.
The town of Jackson is “lucky” compared to peer communities like Aspen, Colorado, Planning Director Paul Anthony told town councilors during a Monday workshop on short-term rentals. Jackson has a fraction of the legal short-term rental listings as Aspen, something like 200 compared to Aspen’s 3,000, he said.
In addition to the 200 permitted short-term rentals Jackson has more that fall outside that zone. Trying to quantify how many, Jackson staff found 70 properties being advertised via Airbnb, VRBO and local private management companies on July 14.
“This count is a snapshot in time and likely conservative, since units are frequently listed and delisted depending on owners’ needs and because units may be advertised on other platforms like Facebook and other social media sites that the town does not track,” the staff report stated.
Anthony told councilors it’s up to them to decide if Jackson needs more restrictions to get ahead of the growing problem. He did ask, though, that the council make at least some changes so the few rules Jackson does have could be enforced.
“The current status quo system is unworkable,” Anthony said.
That’s because since 2007 the town has allowed short-term rentals outside the Lodging Overlay or Snow King Resort District so long as those rentals happen less than once a month. Catching an owner re-renting or reoccupying a unit after renting once within the allowed 31-day period would require “stake-outs” and “routine compliance check-ins,” the staff report said.
Upping the rental limit to once every 60 or 90 days, or allowing three short-term rentals a year would be easier to track, Anthony said, and the town could also make everyone apply for a permit, which is not the case now.
In the workshop, councilors seemed to prefer capping short-term rentals to between two and six each year instead of the current 12.
Most of the conversation, though, was about creating an “exclusion” to the rules for locals.
Though the term “local” can be controversial — as evidenced by some councilors avoiding the word when talking about the possibility of an exception.
Any rule to help the middle and working class would require some definitions about who policy-makers want to help.
Town staff presented several different options. Each comes with downsides.
For example, the simple option to look at Wyoming residency isn’t legal. Prioritizing local employees would leave out retirees on fixed incomes. Requiring proof that the property is a primary residence instead of a second home would be hard to regulate.
The council’s best bet might be adding an income-based “hardship license” for people making less than, for example, 400% to 500% of the federal poverty level, town attorney Lea Colasuonno said.
The federal poverty level changes depending on people in a household. In 2021 it was $26,500 for a family of four, putting Colasuonno’s example, which she said she’d seen work in other communities, above six figures.
“When folks are suffering these impacts of not being able to afford their property because property taxes and things are going up,” Colasuonno said, “this gives them the tools.”
A hardship license would be a progressive way of testing each case. But as Anthony pointed out, that approach would require staff time and money to oversee.
The question of whether limiting rentals outside the Lodging Overlay would free up workforce housing is also lacking data and is still up for debate.
Several written public comments mentioned landlords who’d kicked out long-term tenants, opting for higher earnings on short-term rentals.
Ash Hermanowski, who lives in the Aspens where short-term rentals are allowed, said, “Simply put, I don’t have any neighbors. Airbnb guests check in and out every day.”
The town staff report said there is evidence that some residential properties have been purchased to take advantage of the 12-rentals-per-year allowance rather than be rented long-term, removing the units from the community housing pool.
Other public comments rebutted that point.
“Most renters are looking for the stability that comes with a rental of ideally a year, which wouldn’t be possible whether a property had 30-day or 90-day rentals,” Phil Stevenson wrote the council.
Councilor Jessica Sell Chambers pointed to data that indicate an increase in short-term rentals cuts into housing supply and increases rents.
A 2019 study from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Hong Kong found that in cities where Airbnb was popular, affordable units turning into short-term rentals were the source of both good and bad. Renters were harmed but local hosts, who might also be low-income, benefitted.
Mayor Hailey Morton Levinson said she wanted more information on what it would look like to cap the number of short-term rental permits.
In Santa Cruz, California, 250 short-term rental permits are available by lottery each year. Short-term rentals that aren’t hosted — ostensibly by the local, responsible owners — are prohibited.
The town will need another workshop to determine what, exactly, a “locals exception” would look like, how it would be enforced, and what money would fund that enforcement, before changing regulations.