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The City Journals

How should Murray handle short-term rentals?

Sep 05, 2019 03:24PM ● By Shaun Delliskave

Should Murray consider regulating short-term rentals before experiencing problems? (Photo courtesy Host Compliance)

By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]

In one night, the Murray City Police Department responded to a single house six times after complaints from neighbors about a loud party. What made this unique was that the partiers were staying at an Airbnb (a short-term home-rental service) house, and police had trouble contacting the owner through the rental service. While Murray is not likely to see the same issues that San Diego or even Park City experience with vacation rentals, the city is still a destination for travelers who are staying close to loved ones who are patients at Intermountain Medical Center.

At the moment, Murray is not considering any particular change in city code, but the idea of regulating short-term rentals is definitely on the city’s radar. An STR, by the city’s definition, is a residence that is rented for less than 30 days. 

Where it is legal, many people who wish to can list their house as an STR through an online marketplace like Airbnb, VRBO.com, and HomeAway. These online marketplaces have exploded in growth over the past couple of years. Increasing numbers of homeowners are renting part or all of their dwelling to vacationers in order to earn passive income. Cities like San Diego and New Orleans, which attract large numbers of tourists, have seen out-of-state companies come in and buy numerous homes exclusively for use as short-term rentals. 

Murray’s current code prohibits the renting of any dwelling in a residential zone for less than 30 days. According to Community and Economic Development Supervisor Jared Hall, what Airbnb and other short-term rental companies would like is an allowance in Murray’s residential zones.

Other cities experiencing growth in the short-term rental market have seen the number of long-term rental properties decrease as they are converted into STRs. And STR properties have unfair advantages over commercial lodging providers. STRs also tend to increase nuisances, safety risks, and can negatively affect property values and community adhesiveness. A significant portion of taxes is also not collected from STRs.

“Whole segments of the French Quarter (in New Orleans), row upon row upon row of homes have become short-term rentals. They’re very lucrative, but all of the interests that own those homes are all entities from out of state,” Hall said in a July 18 Planning Commission meeting. “What we’ve thought about was allowing it around the hospital. If we were going to limit it to geographic areas that would make sense.”

“We would also want to require the resident to be living there,” Development Services Manager James McNulty said.

Sandy City has already tried to regulate STRs by dividing the city into communities. These neighborhood council areas allow one STR for every 100 housing units.

“I would challenge anyone to tell me what benefit a residential neighborhood would have with this type of activity. You’re gonna hear my favorite refrain: if we regulate these, that means we have to enforce our regulations. We do not enforce regulations to the degree that they need to be done,” Murray Planning Commissioner Phil Markham said.

“I don’t want to add more regulations that we can’t take care of already,” Hall responded. “If we make a bunch of regulations to feel good about allowing them, can we back that up with staff and time and things to do that? Maybe we can; I don’t know.” 

Many ideas for tackling this issue are being floated: Possible exceptions to allow STRs in Murray could focus on specific city areas, such as Murray’s downtown, where STRs might be sensible. The city could also consider requiring owner-occupied residency to try to ameliorate negative impacts. Fines could be issued to violators of any STR codes to help fund enforcement of the regulations. 

While the Department of Community and Economic Development and the Planning Commission did not decide on new regulations regarding STRs during the meeting, the commission did decide that this will be brought up again later in the year for more public input.