Us against Them: Short-term rental feud

By on August 7, 2014

If there’s one issue that really galvanizes our local populace it’s affordable housing. And it’s an issue that’s been brought, once again, to the forefront – this time by some elected officials indecisive about enforcing land development regulations for short-term rentals.

While it’s clear that the town and county need to be more proactive about addressing the housing shortage, and that merely enforcing the regulations currently on the books will not suffice towards that end, it’s also undeniable that looking the other way on short-term rentals has a negative effect on the housing stock. Those officials who voted yes Monday night to continue to ban short-term rentals should be applauded for their votes.

But it’s worth examining some of the arguments made by the Clear Creek Group in an email it sent to would-be supporters of a business model that relies on brokering illegal short-term vacation rentals in residential neighborhoods. It’s also worth pointing out that not only did the Clear Creek Group provide a handy list of talking points, but it also asked supporters to refrain from mentioning the Clear Creek Group by name. As of press time, Clear Creek Group general manager, Kevin Kavanagh, did not return a call for comment on this email.

Among its claims:

“As you are likely aware, a change to Teton County Regulations concerning non-resort zone rentals has been proposed…”

This is not true. No changes have been proposed. The regulations have been on the books for 20 years. CCG’s attorneys proposed an interpretation of the law that was clearly wrong, and while it may have a good malpractice suit against its lawyers, it does not excuse the company from the law. These laws were on the books 10 years before CCG even existed.

“Current regulations allow any homeowner in Teton County… to rent his or her home once in any 30 day period.”

In fact, they specifically bar these rentals, as an 8-1 vote by town and county just reaffirmed.

“If passed, the proposed regulation would unilaterally take away a property right our homeowners had when they purchased their properties: the right to rent that home once every 30 days.”

Again, they never had that right.

“Vacation rentals are a trend that must be recognized, embraced, and harnessed. The concept is here to stay. We believe attempts to legislate around this trend is shortsighted and unwise.”

In other words, the market has decided that this will happen, and the rest of us are powerless to resist as our rents continually skyrocket, and our neighborhoods are turned into resorts instead of places to plant roots or raise families.

“Decisions should not be influenced by an emotional, vocal minority, but should be made by quantifying problems, addressing them analytically, and then implementing those solutions with reasonable and practical methods of enforcement.”

So the needs and emotions of our community have no place in this discussion? Instead, CCG says we should rely on accountants and economists to determine a course of action that will result in the most profits (profits which will, of course, go to CCG and their clients).

“Do what is fair and reasonable for owners and businesses who have dutifully complied with the regulations.”

Again, they have not complied with the regulations, but, rather, have assisted homeowners in violating them repeatedly on the basis of legal advice they bought which has now been proven wrong.

“This is a complex issue, further complicated by emotion…”

Emotion, apparently, has no place in CCG’s analysis.

“Please note that any confirmed rentals will not be impacted by this decision.”

Presumably this means that CCG is confident it can continue to ignore the law with impunity. And this gets to the heart of the matter. When the public sees the wealthy and the connected flout the law with no consequences, while they themselves are arrested, imprisoned and fined for the most minor of offenses, it destroys the credibility of the law and the cohesion of our community. While the mere existence of this debate weakened our confidence in local government, we can at least be grateful that, in the end, they did the right thing.

About Pete Muldoon

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