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Some Idaho cities could require permits for short-term rentals. How does it work in McCall?

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Faced with affordable housing issues, cities in Idaho — from Boise to Ketchum — are considering ordinances they hope will help them get a handle on a growing number of short-term rentals, without veering into a legal gray area under Idaho law.

The Ketchum City Council could vote on its proposed rules during a meeting this afternoon. They would require owners of short-term rentals to get a special business permit and to sign off on health and safety measures.

Ketchum’s ordinance closely resembles rules already in place in McCall, which has required short-term rental owners to obtain business licenses and to sign a “declaration of compliance” since Jan. 2020.

The business licenses are $125 for the first application and $25 each year to renew. They ensure the rentals are subject to McCall’s 7% local option tax for all lodging. Each owner only has to get one permit, so property rental companies can operate many rentals under one license.

The declaration is a checklist owners sign that says the rental won’t allow more than one parking space per bedroom, that it won’t allow more than four guests for each bedroom and that it acknowledges quiet hours are between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m., among other things.

It also says the owners will post these rules so the guests are aware of them. If an owner wants to make the unit open to more than 19 guests, it has to get a special conditional use permit.

“It's the same way that a hotel has to provide certain things that aren't just a bed to sleep in,” said Meredith Todd, McCall’s assistant city planner. “They need to provide safety and the ability to be a good steward of a place.”

Todd said McCall’s short-term rental rules aim to strike a balance. The city knows locals who own short-term rentals use the properties for a source of income in the face of rising property taxes and costs of living, and the funds raised through the local option tax benefit the city.

It also heard from residents before the rules went into effect who were frustrated by a growing number of rentals in their neighborhoods. During those deliberations, citizens mentioned intoxicated people wandering the streets, an obtrusive number of cars parked outside a residence and houses with only a few bedrooms listed for twenty guests.

Todd said the most important aspects of requiring the business license and declaration of compliance are the city’s ability to address concerns that come up and the data the city is able to collect.

“We've realized that it's just so important to have a record of where the short term rentals are and who we should contact in case something happens,” Todd said.

For example, she knows 488 rentals are permitted by the city. So if she goes on rental websites and sees more than that, she knows about how many are out of compliance. She can also tell if certain neighborhoods have more rentals than others.

“That can really inform our planning practices and policies going forward,” Todd said.

The city also uses the contact information listed on the forms when neighbors call with issues, like if a guest is illegally parked or if they’re not using the bear-safe garbage containers correctly.

“That allows us to have a concrete bit of information to contact the property owner and say, ‘hey, remember that you agreed on your business license and through your declaration of compliance that this was what your property could provide,’” Todd said.

Enforcement, she said, is largely reactionary, driven by complaints. Civil violations of McCall’s code technically could result in fines less than $1,000 a day, but city staff tend to act as mediators when there’s an issue.

Todd said McCall is watching how other Idaho cities decide to address short-term rentals in case it wants to make any changes. She said figuring out what works is an iterative process.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

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