Utah State Capitol STK

The Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City, photographed on Friday, Jan. 22, 2016. 

Provo officials have concerns about House Bill 253, which would prevent cities from prohibiting short-term rentals.

Provo’s current ordinance does not allow for single-family homes to be used for short-term housing rentals — but the proposed legislation would override that ordinance to allow for short-term rentals as long as the owner occupies the home being rented out.

Many people are familiar with that concept of short-term rentals through the use of services like Airbnb and VRBO, which connect renters with property owners who wish to rent out a house, room or basement for anywhere from one night to a few weeks.

Rep. John Knotwell, R-Herriman, the bill’s sponsor, said it is intended to protect the private property rights of the owners in a reasonable way, but Provo officials see it as an attempted overstep of the state’s power.

“We do a pretty good job of zoning for our growth and planning and managing our neighborhoods,” said Corey Norman, spokesman for Provo. “Philosophically, it’s hard for us to appreciate the state’s role and wanting to assert itself.”

But advocates of the bill see the bill as returning rights back to property owners.

Cities don’t put a limit on how many children you can have that live in your home, or how many friends you can have stay the night at your home, said Connor Boyack, president of Libertas Institute.

So, he said, the only difference between short-term rentals and those situations is the money exchanged.

“You are able and free to share your home with family and friends,” Boyack said. “Whether money is exchanged does not change the use of the property.”

Kim Santiago, Provo city councilor, said the city council’s top priority right now is to get on top of over-occupancy in Provo — an issue she says would be made trickier by allowing short-term rentals. Short-term rentals can exacerbate problems like a shortage of parking in neighborhoods, and issues with city-supplied services like garbage pickup.

“It can bring problems like parties and noise complaints,” Santiago said. “Because they are in vacation mode, yet they’re in a residential area. We have concerns about the bill for those reasons.”

And, Santiago said, it would be hard to enforce laws like noise ordinances because the renters would be at the property for such a short time.

But Boyack says short-term rentals have helped many families across Utah who use short-term renting as a way to help supplement their income.

Especially in the wake of the recession, Boyack said, it was important for people who might otherwise have lost their homes to be able to subsidize their income with short-term rentals.

Norman said Provo has unique challenges it faces when compared with other cities, including a high rate of people renting in the city.

“It’s hard to make one-size-fits-all when it comes to the issues,” Norman said. “The concerns we have in Provo are different than what other cities like Sandy or Draper face.”

Knotwell said the bill is still a work in progress, and he will continue to meet with stakeholders to address concerns.

The bill passed out of a House committee with a favorable recommendation Monday and will he heard on the House floor.

Katie England is the South County and political reporter for the Daily Herald. She can be reached at 801-344-2599 or kengland@heraldextra.com.

Katie England covers politics, county government and southern Utah County for the Daily Herald. She can be reached at 801-344-2599 or kengland@heraldextra.com.

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