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Coeur d’Alene looks to regulate vacation rentals

A snapshot of vacation rental homes advertised on the VRBO website. (Scott Maben / The Spokesman-Review)
A snapshot of vacation rental homes advertised on the VRBO website. (Scott Maben / The Spokesman-Review)

An elegant cottage near downtown. A remodeled beach house in Fort Grounds. Just steps to Tubbs Hill and Sanders Beach.

If you’re looking to vacation in Coeur d’Alene, a growing list of booking options is available in homes featured on websites like Airbnb, TripAdvisor, HomeAway and VRBO.

And all of them operate in violation of the city zoning code, which prohibits vacation rentals. But that may change.

Recognizing the growing interest in short-term home rentals, the city will consider legalizing the practice and requiring a permit to operate a vacation rental.

“We have received a lot of inquiries from local homeowners who are interested in starting vacation rentals and also owners of existing vacation rentals who have called to find out if vacation rentals are legal or illegal,” said Hilary Anderson, the city’s community planning director.

The change would level the playing field with hotels and bed-and-breakfasts, which are regulated.

“That’s all we’re looking for, is that they have to follow the same rules every single lodging facility in this state is required to follow,” said John Hough, who operates The Roosevelt Inn bed-and-breakfast in Coeur d’Alene.

The city is hosting an online survey to learn what residents, property owners and businesses think. It includes questions about short-term rentals in residential zones and whether a minimum stay should be required.

The city permit and inspection would not be required for homes rented one or two times a year, for no more than 14 days total. That exemption would let people offer their homes during events such as Ironman, the Fourth of July celebration and Art on the Green, Anderson said.

While the city supports property rights and the ability for people to generate income, an ordinance would help ensure that vacation renters are good neighbors and the rentals are safe for tourists, she said. As part of a permit process, the city would inspect the homes to ensure they comply with safety requirements for smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and functioning bedroom windows.

Rentals of primary residences and accessory dwelling units of less than a month are considered transient, not semipermanent. But the city enforces its stance on vacation rentals only in response to complaints, which are rare. Anderson said she believes most vacation rentals operate as good neighbors.

Hough said he’d like to help craft the ordinance, especially given that the state has declined to apply state lodging regulations to vacation rentals.

He’s leery of the growing number of vacation rentals by owners. By his count, almost 200 are now advertised in the Coeur d’Alene area.

“You don’t know what you’re going to get,” said Hough, vice president of the Idaho Bed and Breakfast Association. “You hope you’re going to get what you saw on the Internet, but in many cases you do not get what you thought you were being promised, and you have no recourse. It makes for a bad experience.”

Philip and Janet McCormick have owned two vacation rental homes near downtown since 2006. The couple, who live in Guam and plan to retire in Coeur d’Alene next year, take care in screening and booking guests, get positive online reviews, and have not had neighbors complain, Philip McCormick said.

“In 10 years of running two homes, we’ve never had to withhold anyone’s damage deposit,” he said. “They treat our home just like they would their own.”

McCormick said he thinks it’s a good idea to permit and regulate vacation rentals in the city. He also said he and his wife do pay the state sales tax of 6 percent and the travel and convention tax of 2 percent, as all lodging businesses are required to do.

Fort Grounds resident Denny Davis said some type of regulation probably is merited, such as a cap on the number of people who can stay in a house and safeguards to ensure that renters are not disruptive to nearby residents.

“Certainly it’s good for some residents to be able to rent their places and gain a little income,” Davis said. “It’s good for the community to be able to provide some housing for all these major events that occur.”

But there are some downsides as well, he said.

“We live close to one,” Davis said. “In the summer months, when most of the rentals go on, it’s kind of like living next to a family reunion for the entire summer.”