Cabin owners rebel against new rental regulations

01.03.2010 In: World travel news

ISLAND PARK — As of late Friday, Feb. 26, twenty-eight vacation cabin owners had filed paperwork with Fremont County protesting regulations the county commissioners recently imposed on people who rent their cabins on a short term basis.

They each filed a form provided by the state Attorney General’s office titled, “Request for Taking Analysis.”

The owners claim that the county has violated their private property rights and right to earn income by requiring that they comply with a long list of regulations, and pay annual fees, before they can rent their cabins on a short term basis.

The vacation cabin rental business is huge in Island Park and brisk in other areas of the county. Dozens of cabins are advertised on the internet, and several businesses, including Realtors, manage vacation cabin rentals for owners. Even the county’s prosecuting attorney, Joette Lookabaugh, owns a rental, which is advertised on line as the “Snake River Rental: Paradise for rent by the week or by the month (

Despite the vacation cabin rental business’s obvious importance to the economy, the county has never done a fiscal analysis to determine just how much money renters spend in the county, how many dollars in property taxes, sales taxes, gas taxes, and other fees vacation rental cabin owners and users pay, and how many jobs the vacation cabin rental business generates.

Abbie Mace, the county’s clerk and auditor, said she is time-and-date stamping the forms and turning them over to the county attorney’s office.

Marla Payne, owner of Outback Realty, said she submitted a form on Friday for a client who owns a rental. She said filing the form is the first step in an appeal that will be filed in district court. The appeal will be of the county commission’s Feb. 8 decision to regulate the rentals. The decision was made after a work session reviewing public testimony on the issue taken at a January public hearing. Fremont County’s deputy prosecutor, Blake Hall, argued for the regulations at the public hearing.

The appeal will most likely be filed by the Association of Idaho Realtors, whose legal staff has told the county several times it will appeal the regulations.

The county commission voted unanimously to approve the ordinance, which also regulates some home businesses.

One of the ordinance’s major impacts is that it ignores residential zoning in residential neighborhoods where there are vacation cabin rentals. It states that the County Commission, “declares that the use of a residential dwelling or home, or any part thereof, for the purpose of short-term or transient rental is a commercial use...”

If the appeal fails and the ordinance goes into effect in August, as per the ordinance, vacation cabin rental owners, some home business owners, and owners of small residential care facilities, will be required to apply for a two-year Class 1 permit to stay in business.

The ordinance states that vacation cabins provide, “a community benefit by expanding the number and type of lodging facilities available.”

It goes on to note that vacation cabins are also, “a community concern, due to the potential for increased traffic, noise, and density in residential neighborhoods if these uses are not properly regulated.” It notes that vacation rental cabins have the potential to “exceed standards for the design capacity of such structures and to cause health and safety problems, and as such may constitute a danger to life and adjacent property; and ... minimum health and safety standards are necessary to protect both the citizens of the county and the occupants of transient rentals.”

Island Park citizens first proposed regulating vacation cabins around five years ago when some renters created noise, traffic, and parking problems in neighborhoods. Since then, there have been several revisions of the initially proposed ordinance, and several public hearings. There were more supporters than detractors at the first round of hearings, the comments were around 50-50 during the next round, and in the next round, there were more opponents. In the most recent public hearing on the ordinance, all 14 people who testified were against the regulations.

Commissioners voting for the ordinance were Paul Romrell, chairman, Skip Hurt, and Lee Miller.

As noted, the Association of Idaho Realtors also opposes it, and opposed 2007, 2008, and 2009 drafts regulating vacation cabin rentals. In a January 26, 2010 letter, the association asks the commission to “reject” the proposed ordinance.

The letter states that the ordinance is, “of questionable legal merit, confusing in its placement in the (development) code, negative for the economy of Fremont County, and unjust to existing residents. As drafted, this proposal also appears to be a significant intrusion into the private property rights of landowners in Fremont County. While we certainly recognize the problems that may exist with some rental units today, it would seem to us that the most expedient way for the county to address these issues is through the enforcement of existing ordinances.”

The letter warns that if the regulations are approved, many owners will sell their vacation rental cabins. Owners of these cabins now pay full property taxes because they’re ineligible for the homeowner’s exemption. The letter notes that new owners would probably be eligible for the exemption, resulting in a loss in property tax collections. “The drop in values, coupled to the increase in homeowner's exemptions in the county, will cause a double shift in taxes to owner occupied homes as the levy rate increases to keep collections level,” states the letter.

The association also objects to the county applying different sets of onsite septic system regulations to similar pieces of property just because one property is rented for part of the year.

The letter states, “It is not clear whether Fremont County has the authority to impose more stringent restrictions when the state has already spoken on this matter. Idaho is not a ‘home rule’ state. It is further unclear whether these regulations meet the tests set out by the Idaho Attorney General with regard to Idaho's Regulatory Taking Act. We believe these regulations would have a significant impact on the landowner's economic interest, deny the owner of all economically viable uses of the property, and deny a fundamental attribute of ownership of the property.”

This is part of the February 25, 2010 online edition of The Island Park News.