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Boise City Council divided on licensing short-term rentals


The possibility of licensing short-term rentals didn’t get a rousing welcome at Boise City Hall Tuesday night. 

In a work session, city staff presented the idea of an ordinance requiring the operators of short-term rentals, like Airbnb and VRBO, to get a license from the city. This would require them to pay an $80 fee and provide proof of liability insurance and contact information for all property owners. 

[Treasure Valley housing crisis causes ripples across economy, community]

Licensing = data

Council President Elaine Clegg and City Council Member Jimmy Hallyburton were behind the idea. Still, other council members raised objections to putting requirements on business owners without enough information first about their impact. 

Mayor Lauren McLean said the idea behind the ordinance, which could take effect in February 2022, would be to gather more information on the number of short-term rentals and their owners to learn more about how much they are impacting the city. Then, depending on what the licensure data said, the city could consider further regulations if they felt it was necessary. 

Licensing short-term rentals is a policy McLean supported during her 2019 mayoral campaign. 

“We wanted to look at a step of licensing first,” McLean said. “In requiring licenses, it will provide us the information to better understand if there are, in fact, policy changes that need to be made related to short-term rentals… We will be able to better understand how many short-term rentals are in our community, where they are, who owns them, who operates them, and what amenities they offer.”

Short-term rentals are a divisive issue in Boise. During the housing crisis, advocates have raised concerns about properties that were once rentals for permanent residents being converted to short-term rentals for visitors. Homeowners have also reported issues with parties at the properties and upkeep for the homes in single-family neighborhoods. 

On the other hand, supporters of short-term rentals say they provide an option for Boiseans to rent out an accessory dwelling unit or a part of their home to supplement their income as the cost of housing rises. Boise Regional Realtors also opposed any regulations on them in 2019 because they say it would violate private property rights. 

[Deep Dive: Boiseans divided on impacts of short-term rentals]

Bageant and Woodings give a thumbs down

City Council Member Patrick Bageant said adding a license requirement for short-term rentals would only add red tape to property owners when there is no proof short-term rentals are harming the city. 

“Unlike taxi drivers or all the other things we license, those situations have demonstrable potential harm to the public that licensure is designed to alleviate,” he said. “This seems different because we don’t have any information demonstrating harm to the public, so what we’re going to do instead is charge someone $80 to provide the information to determine if there’s no harm. That causes me concern.”

City Council Member Holli Woodings weighed in alongside Bageant, saying she needed more information before taking this step. She suggested the city talk with the Idaho Tax Commission to see if it could learn more about the ownership of STRs in Boise that way instead of the ordinance. 

“I think before we enact an ordinance where we require someone to license something that we’re not even sure is causing harm, I would prefer a little more information and a really solid definition of a short-term rental.”

Hallyburton: Licensing ‘not necessarily a burden’

Two other council members were in support. 

Clegg said if they moved forward with an ordinance, she would like it to be reexamined after a year to see its effectiveness and if anything needed to change, similar to other ordinances the city council passed. For example, she noted a license would be useful to gather more ownership information to help first responders get in touch with the property owners in case of an incident. 

“As I understand it, we do have some avenues, especially when there is an emergency call to one of these locations and you don’t know who the owner is and who to talk to,” she said. “It seems to me that this would be a public interest to be able to understand some of this information we would get from a license.”

Hallyburton backed up Clegg, adding that a licensing system would help the city ferret out if most short-term rentals are owned by individual property owners who live in the area or large companies that operate hundreds of units. He said short-term rentals operated by individuals using the extra income to keep affording their home in Boise did not bother him, but more extensive operations pose more problems for him. 

“An $80 fee and licensing is not necessarily a burden if we can make sure it also better informs neighbors and emergency services,” he said. “Somebody who might own ten properties in town that might potentially be available for long-term rentals is an issue, and this gives us steps to potentially better regulate those.”

Another round of public input?

City Council President Pro Tem Lisa Sanchez said she wanted to hear more from the public before proceeding. 

“I do feel like there is some disruption in our neighborhoods, but I think we need to do some more outreach and let everybody who feels like they are affected so they can give input on how they may be being harmed,” she said. 

Former Mayor Dave Bieter proposed stricter regulations on short-term rentals in 2019, including a requirement that operators live on the property, only one short-term rental per lot, and a license to operate. The idea got a mixed reception, and he convened an advisory group to study it further. Before his loss to McLean, he announced that the city wouldn’t pursue the changes after all

Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at [email protected] or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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