New Idaho law on vacation rentals seeks middle ground

BOISE – Idaho has a new law to govern how short-term vacation rentals, like those marketed on Airbnb and other services, are regulated and taxed, and it may bring peace in a long-simmering fight over the growing industry.

The bill, which Gov. Butch Otter signed into law earlier this month, forbids cities or counties in Idaho from banning short-term vacation rentals, which are home rentals for 30 days or less. But it does allow local governments to regulate them with regard to health, safety and welfare; requires zoning ordinances to recognize them as a residential use; and also requires collection of state sales and lodging taxes.

“We don’t want to ban them in Idaho, because we have a very different setup than a lot of states do,” said Pam Eaton, president of the Idaho Lodging and Restaurant Association. “For example, we want to bring big, huge conventions to Sun Valley, but there’s not enough hotels up there. … So we need the vacation rental homes. … And there are a lot of other areas around the state that are like that. So these vacation rental homes actually help with tourism and economic development.”

Eaton spearheaded the bill, working with stakeholders including the state’s cities and counties; the real estate industry, for which her husband, John, is the lobbyist; and Expedia, which is developing its own vacation rental platform. The measure passed the Idaho Senate unanimously and the House 63-5.

The new law passed while Coeur d’Alene is in the middle of developing its own city ordinance regarding short-term vacation rentals.

“We’ve been working on it a little more than a year,” city planner Sean Holm said. “We’ve been adjusting our ordinance to meet the requirements.”

Holm said recent estimates suggest there are 300 to 400 short-term vacation rentals in Coeur d’Alene.

“We’re seeing an exponential growth in this type of use,” he said.

Cheryl Lantz, who’s owned Vacation Rental Authority in Coeur d’Alene for five years, said the supply of vacation rentals has roughly doubled in the past few years.

“So there’s definitely a lot more people that are getting in on the vacation rental investment,” she said. “But there’s also corresponding demand – there’s more tourism going on as well, and people that are looking for vacation rentals in our area to rent.”

Her firm has about 60 properties, most of them have three to five bedrooms. Some are waterfront homes.

“It’s been terrific – we’ve grown quite a bit,” she said, “and we’ve been able to help a lot of owners take care of guests that are coming into town.”

Much of the friction over short-term vacation rentals stems from fears that they’ll disrupt neighborhoods by bringing different big groups in each night for wild parties. Holm said the Coeur d’Alene ordinance attempts to head that off by requiring a minimum two-night stay. Research shows roughly 92 percent of…

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