By on February 24, 2015

DISSTongueLet ‘em burn bill

Adherence to International Building Code may not be the sexiest topic at the state capitol, and it hardly appears to be a pressing matter in Teton County, but what a handy little piece of governance it could turn out to be. Currently, IBC standards requiring sprinkler systems be installed in buildings used as short-term rentals are largely ignored, or at least conveniently overlooked on a regular basis.

Is it onerous and costly for a homeowner to have to retrofit their ski vacation home in Jackson Hole to comply with these standards if they plan on renting it out for less than 30 days? Yep. Is it yet another absurd example of government overreaching and overburdening its citizens into a “nanny state” condition? Probably.

But it sure is useful. Maybe not for the reason county leaders are petitioning lawmakers to back off on deregulation concerning structures purposed or repurposed for short-term rentals. County commissioners are opposed to a bill that would waive more stringent fire safety features for short-term rentals including those intended to house tourists.

It doesn’t seem fair to hotels that must conform to all sorts of government-mandated minimums in order to keep lodgers from ending their vacation with a funeral. A building intended primarily for use by renters who will stay there less than 30 days should have to meet IBC standards for a commercial lodging structure. There is a burden of responsibility on an innkeeper to make sure his tenants are going to have time to get their Samsonites into the station wagon before they are asphyxiated. OK, that reference is a little dated to the ‘70s, maybe.

The bill has gained some traction in Cheyenne. It fits soundly into the “Big Brother shouldn’t be prying into my house” screech of millionaires who boil at the thought of their trophy McMansion sitting empty 10 months a year without a return on investment. And it’s often music to the ears of lawmakers in Wyoming, who are banzai to whittle away government intrusion, especially when it comes from the 20510 or 20515 zip codes.

But the sprinkler requirement, if actually enforced, is the answer to Teton County’s short-term vs. long-term rental problems. For years, county officials looked the other way when homeowners rented out their property short-term (less than 30 days) illegally. They simply don’t have the compliance department to keep up. But when VRBO and other online bartering sites brought the illegal rentals into the limelight, newspapers like this one started noticing. When the lodging tax passed, government leaders began noticing they weren’t getting very good cooperation or their two cents from homeowners-turned-hoteliers.

There was never any need to pass new ordinances or rezone any districts or do anything, really, about short-term rental abuse. The answer was right there in front of our faces. Just enforce the IBC. No one is going to take their beautiful Jackson home and install a sprinkler system or ADA compliant wheelchair ramps. It would be like catching Al Capone on a tax evasion technicality. Go ahead and rent out your house to new guests every week; just make sure it has smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, flame resistant linens and draperies, a sprinkler system, handicap access, electrical armoring and one of those maps to the nearest exit on the back of every bedroom door.

PROPSFistbumpLummis up a creek

U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis’ “paddle” bill is a tough call. Lummis introduced a new version of legislation that would allow floating of some rivers in Grand Teton and Yellowstone parks. A similar bill failed last year after pitting conservation groups against paddlers.

No one wants to see a commercialization of some of the most pristine rivers in the American West, or empty PBR cans floating down the Firehole. National parks are one place where wild native species can get a leg up on surviving a shrinking habitat. Trout are especially frail and have trouble coping with warming water temps, among other threats. The last thing they need is a train of whitewater yahoos party-barging their way down the Lewis River all day.

But national parks are always one more regulation away from “museum” status. They are preserved for the public only to look at and rarely to use or interact with. If a kayaker or packboater wants to float the Lamar, why not let him or her? It’s doubtful abuse or overuse will be an issue. With education, more and more river users understand the need to care for and protect these magnificent waterways and, by and large, can be expected to steward them accordingly.

About Jake Nichols

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