Limited and Open Government

What’s Next for Airbnb Regulation in Utah?

Short-term rentals have gotten a lot of attention the past few years, especially in Utah. There have been speculations about an “Airbnbust,” questions about their impact on housing affordability, and, from some, calls for stricter regulations and bans.

As someone who has been following the issue of short-term rentals in Utah closely, I wanted to give a summary of recent legislative developments and provide a preview of what’s to come.

How Cities’ Approaches to Short-Term Regulation Vary

First, we need to recognize that short-term rental regulation differs from city to city and even neighborhood to neighborhood. In other words, your local city or county zoning ordinances dictate practically everything. If a city wants to do something as drastic as outlawing them in all residential zones, they can (and a number of cities in Utah do). Cities can also stipulate that short-term rental operators must live on the property they rent out (e.g. renting out a basement apartment). Cities also have the choice to not regulate short-term rentals much at all, and rely on nuisance and other relevant ordinances to keep renters from disturbing neighbors. 

That being said, over the past few years, Utah lawmakers and advocates have held official meetings to consider what, if any, regulations should exist at the state level. All options were put on the table, with the following receiving the most discussion:

  1. Utah should adopt a regulatory framework like Arizona and Florida have. In those states, cities and counties are prohibited from outright banning short-term rentals in residential zones. Instead, cities and counties are free to require permits, pass regulations that help protect the health and safety of guests and neighboring residents, and provide neighbors with easy access to address nuisances and get prompt resolution. 
  2. The Utah state government should step in and do more to help local governments more efficiently and effectively enforce current regulations on illegal short-term rental operators — especially since we are in a housing crisis.

The Path to Compromise

Predictably, those who favor freedom and property rights were advocating for individuals to have the right to peacefully operate short-term rentals. In turn, stakeholders representing local governments were suggesting that the state recognize that short-term rentals can be a problem and that the state should help local governments more efficiently regulate them.

After all of the meetings and conversations, the two sides have been unable to come to a compromise. Multiple bills in the past few legislative sessions (both regulating and deregulating short-term rentals) stalled due to lack of consensus on the issue.

Absent state legislation on the matter of short-term rentals, the issue is left for the cities and counties to consider. One city may ban short-term rentals in more residential areas, ramp up enforcement, or start contemplating their own compromise ordinances. The direction that a given city takes will depend on the political will and makeup of the city council and how residents choose to engage with them on the issue.