Boise City Council is heading back to the drawing board on a proposed ordinance to license short-term rentals in city limits.
On Tuesday, city council heard hours of testimony from frustrated neighbors and Airbnb hosts alike on Mayor Lauren McLean’s pitch to require a license for short-term rentals in Boise. If passed, this rule would have required anyone renting a space for 30 days or less to pay $80 per year for a license from the city, obtain liability insurance and provide the address and contact information for the owner of the unit to city staff.
But, for all of the council members, the devil was in the details. After nearly 40 people testified, the council voted unanimously to send the idea back to a work session for rewrites and another vote in the coming weeks.
“I think this is a very well-intentioned ordinance that takes things in the right direction and things we need to pursue, but my issue is there are potentially some issues with language…,” City Council Member Jimmy Hallyburton said, naming a list of items he was concerned about. “Those discussions need to be defined a little more before I can make a motion to postpone or make a motion to approve with specific changes.”
What kind of changes could be coming?
Council Members asked dozens of questions of both city staff and those presenting on both sides of the issue as they wrestled with the proposal.
Hallyburton said he wasn’t sure the city needed to require short-term rental owners to provide a list of amenities, like swimming pools, or a detailed drawing showing the layout of the property. He also noted the city should maybe change the language requiring a “local agent” to manage complaints to a local contact, allowing for more flexibility while still maintaining the same idea that each short-term rental should have someone available to address concerns.
Another sticking point was the proposed inclusion of a misdemeanor for violators of the ordinance. This raised alarm bells for several local short-term rental hosts who testified during the hearing, saying it was an overreaction to any potential problems. Several told the council they felt “vilified” by critics of short-term rentals in neighborhoods and adding the possibility of a misdemeanor to punish non-compliance made them feel singled out.
To address this anxiety, City Council President Elaine Clegg suggested adding more detail to the penalty section with steps the city would take as problems escalated. This would codify the city’s practice of resolving issues with education and verbal communications and rarely issuing misdemeanors Deputy City Clerk Jamie Heinzerling described to the council.
“This is a good way to show the community we’re not just out to get them, but that we want to solve the problem.”
A checklist versus a license
City Council Member Patrick Bageant isn’t sold on the idea of licenses at all.
He argued the proposal would only serve to complicate things for locally-based small business owners while investors or large corporations running multiple short-term rentals would easily jump through the hoops. Instead, he suggested using a simple checklist of rules and requirements short-term rental owners would have to comply with. If they didn’t follow the rules, they would have to pay a fine.
He said this would be similar to what the City of McCall currently requires.
“The proposed ordinance is fairly onerous and that benefits sophisticated operators, particularly out-of-state investors at the expense of your Mom and Pop who already have a difficult time complying with the rules we have,” he said.
McLean, getting slightly irritated, told Bageant she wanted to hear specific feedback on how to rewrite the ordinance, but if he didn’t agree with it, he could vote no.
“Staff has explained the licensing piece and this ordinance before,” McLean said. “This is a licensing ordinance. If there’s a vote against a license, I get it. Totally appropriate.”
A divided hearing
By the end of the hearing, the crowd was nearly evenly divided between supporting the proposal and in opposition.
Supporters called it “a good first step” in addressing disturbances from short-term rentals in their neighborhoods, like parking problems and loud parties. But, they acknowledged the ordinance did not address some proponents’ underlying concern that short-term rentals removed affordable rentals for Boiseans and made them into vacation spots.
“Short-term rentals turning homes into hotel rooms is one aspect of how the market treats houses: As a tool for making money instead of housing people,” April Hoy, a member of Boise Renters United said during her testimony.
Opponents, who nearly all owned their own short-term rentals, didn’t see it that way. They called the proposal unnecessary government overreach that would add burdensome paperwork to their business for little payoff. They were exasperated council was looking to regulate their business when the vast majority of rentals in Boise are long-term rentals, which require no license.
Kristie Wolfe, owner of the famous Airbnb shaped like a potato and several other destination rentals, said the ordinance didn’t take into account the economic benefit short-term rentals have by bringing visitors into the area.
“I don’t see what this is accomplishing,” she said. It says ‘let’s have hosts pay for us to go out and find an issue.’”