Vacation rental rules may change

SANDPOINT — In an effort to clamp down on illegal housing operations, city officials are seeking a smarter way to handle vacation rentals.

Residents will have a chance to weigh in on proposed changes to City Code concerning vacation rentals at a public hearing scheduled for Feb. 19, 5:30 p.m. at the city hall council chambers. Hosted by the Planning and Zoning Committee, the forum will allow residents to comment on a series of changes designed to ensure safe, legal lodging for tourists.

The proposed regulations include expanding the approved location for tourist homes to both RM and RS zones, simplifying inspection requirements, increasing the frequency at which a home can be rented out and relaxing the off-street parking requirements from one space per bedroom to 1.4 per unit.

However, the largest changes involving limiting the number of tourist homes within Sandpoint at a ratio of one for every 59 single family homes. That would allow for 40 officially licensed tourist homes immediately, and that number will expand as the number of local homes grows. Each license will have a lifespan of 15 years, be non-transferable and will be revoked if no rental activity occurs within 24 months.

Committee members will take all comments received at the Feb. 19 forum to a joint workshop with the City Council likely to occur within the first week of March. It will be up to council members to officially approve the measure from there.

An ongoing issue under discussion for more than a year, the topic of tourist homes first arose in late 2011 when residents reported issues with their temporary neighbors. After investigating complaints of noisy parties and disruptive behavior, city officials realized that many tourist homes in town were being run illegally.

As a resort city, Sandpoint maintains a 5-percent bed tax on accommodations rented out for less than 30 days to generate revenue from visitors that use public resources but pay fewer taxes. City code also requires that these rented homes undergo inspections by the fire and building departments to guarantee their safety.

However, the increased popularity of online classified boards like Craigslist have prompted many local property owners to circumvent the system and rent homes without informing the city or complying with inspection requirements. Illegal renters also either ignored the bed tax or fraudulently charged clients and pocketed the extra cash.

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