Airbnb disruption to tourist towns, city officials say

Posted at 10:41 PM, Jun 02, 2015
and last updated 2015-06-03 08:29:50-04

PARK CITY, Utah - Some Utah cities are cracking down on room sharing at peoples’ homes, condos or apartments through popular vacation rental websites like Airbnb.

They say the practice has become a disruption in certain neighborhoods, especially in popular tourist towns like Park City.

Park City, St. George, Moab and Provo are examples of cities that have ordinances prohibiting nightly rentals in certain neighborhoods. Airbnb user Caleb Kingston said those ordinances can be difficult to enforce. He compares the websites to music or movie pirating.

Kingston runs a business on the side taking struggling vacation properties and renting them out on the popular website Airbnb. He makes up to $34,000 a year in extra income.

"I pretty much go out and find people with hotels or with homes and I tell them 'How much will you sell me for a condo for per night?' and then I resell it at a higher value," Kingston said.

Kingston rents units in Park City where there are ordinances against room sharing in non-designated zones. Many cities across the country have similar ordinances, but he says they can be difficult to enforce.

"You've got a thousand homes on Airbnb, and in order to stop a thousand homes they've got to crack down on one thousand people," Kingston said.

Park City Assistant Manager Matthew Dias said Park City has always had an ordinance that only permits nightly rentals in designated zones.

"Typically the areas that wouldn't be included are sort of the larger, single family home areas and then as you get closer to the commercial areas, for instance, Historic Main Street, the allowance or use of nightly rentals becomes more prevalent," he said.

Residential hosts are required to obtain a business license and go through the same inspection process as a commercial hotel or bed and breakfast.

"And really, what that does, is it ensures that they have a tax ID number with the State of Utah, so they're remitting taxes to the State of Utah," Dias said. "And then we can get a city official in there to inspect for life, health, safety and wellness issues."

Park City officials occasionally browse rental websites to see if anyone is renting a place in a non-designated zone. People who do not comply can be cited, fined or go to court.

"If there's any indication of that, we would work with the property owner and bring them into compliance," Dias said.

Airbnb encourages its users to check the rules in their own cities before listing a property, but Kingston says a lot of people will rent out rooms in non-designated zones, as long as they don't get caught.

"It's kind of like with pirated music or anything else, you know, once it happens it's kind of like, yeah, you're not supposed to do that, but how are we going to enforce these things where it happens so sporadically?" he said.

Dias says people who want to rent out a room can check Park City's website for rules surrounding nightly rentals. He says if enough residents demand change, they can consider changing the ordinance. But in the meantime, he says they're trying to respect residents who don't want people moving in and out of their neighborhoods.