Hubbard County commissioners heard from residents and short-term rentals (STR) owners, commonly known as Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBOs), about proposed changes to the county’s shoreland management ordinance and the subdivision ordinance.
The board held a public hearing Wednesday, May 26, allowing comments to be made in person or virtually.
Hubbard County Environmental Services (ESO) Director Eric Buitenwerf explained that county planning commission was tasked with creating regulations for STRs.
Noise, overcrowding and light pollution were among the concerns of neighbors.
STR owners asked the county to be wary of creating rules that unfairly target one type of property owner and produce unintended, negative consequences.
Sarah Swanson, an attorney representing a local group, said the proposed rules are “overly restrictive.”
Chuck Diessner, who lives on Potato Lake, said he opposes STRs because guests are there “for a good time.” “It is a difficult matter to manage as a county and it’s an extremely difficult item to manage as a neighbor,” he said. “I have no desire to be getting up at 11:30, 12, 1 o’clock in the morning telling strangers to be quiet so I can sleep.”
He recommended automatic penalties for any violations.
Paul Swenson of Nevis asked if it was wise to allow a business to operate on a shoreland without a conditional use permit (CUP). “You’re choosing to issue a license” instead of a CUP, he said. “The risk to surrounding property values are serious,” yet a license application does not prompt a public hearing.
Cheri Carey of Bemidji said an STR on her lake improved that rental property. “I have had greater problems with homeowners on my lake than I have with this short-term rental,” she said. If noise, light and exceeding occupancy will be regulated, then everybody on the lake should have to follow the same rules.
Rod Vambrossy agreed, saying it’s the responsibility of all property owners to be respectful and communicate well with neighbors.
Kim Butalla, who owns property on Duck Lake, said she has used VRBOs around the country. They have noise and occupancy limits. An STR near her mom’s cabin allows 16 people to stay, park their RVs on her property and shine a light into her home, among other issues. “I feel there needs to be rules and regulations to go along with this,” Butalla said, so people who have lived on the lake for decades can have peace and quiet.
A Florida resident, with a VRBO on Grace Lake in Bemidji, said he and his wife have a large family. They discovered VRBOs about five years ago, saying it’s a wonderful way to have a memorable experience.
“When we invite people, of course we don’t want to upset what is already here, but we love to have other people experience it,” he said, noting the income from the VRBO is helping the family pay for the lake home.
He, too, agreed that a quiet time, for example, should apply to everyone on the lake.
Larry Baumgartner of Park Rapids noted that his STR is not on a lake. He warned against a one-size-fits-all ordinance, especially if the assumption is that all STRs are on shoreland.
Shevy Akason and Skylar Akason, who own STRs in the area, said they have had few complaints from neighbors. Shevy said he is in favor of the regulations, but wants noise regulations to apply to all residents. “I personally manage 50 vacation rentals all over the country. I get complaints from guests that neighbors are too loud,” he said. “Bad guests are generally the exception, not the rule.”
Shevy said VRBO guests often end up moving to the area, buying property and renting it until it becomes their retirement home.
Shevy advocated for reasonable regulations and licensing.
Dolly Matten, CEO of the Greater Lakes Association of Realtors in Baxter, said she has sat in a number of STR ordinance hearings. The language about “a properly sized septic system” in Hubbard County’s ordinance is very vague, she said, because “there’s yet to be a universal classification of what a room is defined at.”
Matten said the ordinance is also unclear about whether a license from the Minnesota Department of Health is necessary. Limiting off-site parking is a mistake, she said, because not all STRs are on lakeshore property. “You have to take into consideration you’ll have properties within city limits that will require off-site parking.”
Board chair David De La Hunt said there was not a timeline for a final decision, but to watch for it on a future meeting agenda.
Proposed STR rules
STRs receive their own special category within the proposed shoreland management ordinance.
The planning commission recommended that STRs obtain a valid annual license, as of Jan. 1, 2022, from the ESO prior to renting out a unit.
STRs would be required to follow these provisions:
The property owner shall keep on file with ESO the name and current telephone number of a contact person who is responsible for responding to questions or concerns regarding the operation of the STR.
The septic servicing an STR “must be properly sized to accommodate the rented structure(s)’ maximum occupancy made available to the public.”
A current SSTS certificate of compliance for any and all SSTS servicing a short-term rental must be submitted as part of a short-term rental license application.
Within 120 hours upon request by the county, these documents must be provide a passing water test for nitrate and coliform dated within one year of current date; proof that Hubbard County property tax payments are not delinquent; demonstration that the STR operation has a license issued by the Minnesota Department of Health or written certification from the property owner that states that a state license is not required.
Sufficient vehicle parking shall be accommodated completely onsite.
On-premises advertising signs are prohibited.
Quiet hours of 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and midnight to 7 a.m. on Friday and Saturday must be kept by STR users. Enforcement is the responsibility of the property owner.
A map clearly showing the property lines of the STR must be provided to rental customers.
All outside lighting must be hooded, meet all structure setbacks, be directed straight down toward the ground and be a maximum of 20 feet in height.
Rooms used for sleeping must have egress windows, smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors, per Minnesota Statute.
No more than one STR structure is allowed on a lot that does not meet the duplex lot size criteria in the ordinance. No more than two STR structures are allowed to be operated on a lot meeting or exceeding the criteria.
Storage, collection, and disposal of solid waste must comply with the Hubbard County Solid Waste Ordinance No. 18.
A STR license cannot be transferred to a different party than the one permitted.
Any violation of any of these criteria may result in the suspension/revocation of the license.
The proposed ordinance states, “These standards apply to all short-term rentals operating prior to Jan. 1, 2022. All such preexisting short-term rentals must come into compliance with these standards by Jan. 1, 2022.”