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The City Journals

City leaders seek to thwart unapproved residential rentals

Oct 31, 2016 09:43AM ● By Tori LaRue

The Taylorsville City Council seeks to minimize short-term peer-to-peer rental agreements that are in violation of city code. (Pixabay)

By Tori La Rue | [email protected]

Taylorsville, Utah - Taylorsville City officials are looking to buckle down on code enforcement for rental properties. The city started requiring business licenses for all rental properties in 2010, but city staff expects that hundreds of units are being rented without these licenses. 

“For me this is one of the No. 1 problems we have in our city, and I think it could get a whole lot worse,” Councilwoman Dama Barbour said at the Oct. 5 city council meeting—a meeting that primarily focused on the issue. 

Requiring licensure allows the city to regulate rentals by incentivizing owners to keep their properties nice and encourage responsible tenants through the city’s Good Landlord Program, which lowers the $90 license fee per unit to $20 if the landlord meets certain requirements. But this hasn’t been effective with short-term rentals, according to Mark McGrath, city community development director. 

Sites like Airbnb, which allow homeowners to list all, part or even a room of their house for rent, make it easy for homeowners to rent out their property while bypassing the license requirement. The license request is the only way the city can officially approve or deny an accessory apartment, boarding house, transient housing and short-term residential rental. 

“Why in the world does the city council care about this? When you live in a suburban area, what you do on your property affects people around you,” Councilman Brad Christopherson said. “You have your rights, but your neighbors have their rights too.”’

Accessory apartments, often referred to as “grandmother apartments,” are apartments that are connected to an owner-occupied residential home with a separate entry into the home.

Boarding houses are single-family homes where more than two but fewer than six rooms are rented out with a common kitchen space. 

Short-term residential rentals happen when a single-family home, or part of it, is rented for 30 days or less, and transient lodging rentals occur when a room or suite of rooms are occupied for fewer than 30 consecutive days. 

Sometimes people try to compensate for their own financial troubles by renting out their home through one of these methods, but their solution may cause problems for neighbors, Brad Christopherson said. 

If there isn’t adequate parking because the house wasn’t built to accommodate the comings and goings of many people, streets can get clogged with roadside parking. This can block access to homes in emergency situations, according to City Administrator John Taylor. 

In these rental instances, there’s often more noise, and there’s no regulation for the owner to care for the exterior conditions of the home. These situations turn a residential home into the “neighborhood eyesore,” according to Christopherson. This depletes curb appeal and can depreciate home value of nearby homes, he added. 

“The point is if you are in a cul-de-sac, you don’t expect neighbor turn house into hotel,” Christopherson said. 

The city does not allow hotels in residential zoning. For similar reasoning, city officials do not allow boarding houses, transient housing and short-term residential rental in residential zones, but there were more than 40 listings on Airbnb for these types of rentals throughout the city during the Oct. 5 meeting. 

“I think there is no arguing that this is probably the code enforcement area that is the hardest to enforce because it is hard to prove what is going on inside of a house,” McGrath said. 

Barbour suggested the code enforcement task force take a more proactive approach to enforcing the city’s codes, but Taylor said the task force is already at capacity in a reactionary mode. Right now they catch people who are renting contrary to code by complaint and by checking registered addresses. If the homeowner is living at an address other than the one that they own, they may be renting out the home. 

Councilman Dan Armstrong suggested solving the safety and curb appeal problems inherent in short-term residential rentals by raising the penalty for violating the Good Landlord program and not having a business license “to where it hurt.” 

He also suggested hiring someone to identify homeowners who are in violation of code and paying this employee by giving them a cut of the penalty fee. 

The council did not come to a conclusive decision about the residential rentals but said it would speak about the issue again in the future to create adjustments. 

“We don’t want to portray this as the big, bad city taking over,” Councilwoman Kristie Overson said. “But if you look at the vision, the idea is we want to have people take pride in their yards in their street and in this city.”