Like many other cities in Utah and throughout the country, Springville is looking for ways to regulate short-term rentals in a way that satisfies both property owners looking to rent out their homes and those who want to maintain tranquility in their neighborhoods.
For the last year and a half, Weston Ostler has listed his six-bedroom, 8,000-plus square-foot home, which he and his family no longer live in, on Airbnb for groups of 10 to 30 people to rent out on a per-night basis. Most of the guests are older adults and their children who are in town for family reunions or weddings, Ostler said.
The house is equipped with an indoor basketball court, theater room and inflatable bounce houses. In the backyard, there’s an outdoor kitchen, two gas fire pits and a pool with an artificial rock slide.
“We really just want to cater to people that want to get together as a family and have fun under one roof,” he said.
The short-term rental property has raised concern from some neighbors, including Michael Whiting. When 25 guests show up and invite their friends over, it doesn’t take long before “there’s a continual large party going on in their backyard,” he said.
“And so the concern has been that this has moved from something which is sort of a short-term Airbnb to something which is more akin to a business which is operating as an event venue where we, as the neighbors, seem to have no recourse,” Whiting said.
Ostler said he and his wife regulate the property, installed a camera and have rules in place to prevent guests from being a nuisance. Guests aren’t allowed outside after 10 p.m., the backyard gates are locked at all times, and all cars (limited to eight) must be parked in the driveway and not the street. Neighbors have complained about guests inviting other people over, he said, but that isn’t the case.
“I don’t think it is accurate,” said Ostler. “This notion that we’re hosting groups of 60 people and it’s just these crazy parties that are out of control. That is just not happening.”
But Whiting said, from his perspective, there is a constant party going on at the property adjacent to his.
“It is like we are living the Fourth of July, all day, every day,” he said in an email.
While not the only short-term rental in Springville, Ostler’s property has been the catalyst for city officials, residents and investors to have a discussion over how to regulate such properties. According to Josh Yost, Springville’s community development director, there are no ordinances in place to regulate Airbnb rentals.
“We’re just (now) going through the process of evaluating what’s going on and looking at our options to regulate what we refer to as short-terms rentals,” Yost said.
While the city generally interprets its code as not permitting the short-term rental of single-family homes, officials are not enforcing this rule and are, instead, waiting to get a fresh policy on the books, said Yost.
In January, the city hosted a public workshop for residents on both sides of the issue to make their cases. In the upcoming weeks, the Springville City Council will use this input from residents to potentially craft an ordinance regulating short-term rentals, according to Yost.
“The general consensus, I believe, is that they could be permitted with certain regulations,” he said, adding that it isn’t yet clear what those regulations would be.
Different cities have taken different approaches to dealing with Airbnb rentals. Provo’s municipal code states that “it is unlawful to maintain a short-term rental dwelling in any agricultural or residential zone.”
In August 2018, the Sandy City Council passed an ordinance allowing for short-term rentals that meet strict requirements. These requirements include that the home must be owner-occupied, all parking must be off the street and guest count must be limited to eight family members or four nonfamily members.
Ostler said he checked with and received approval from the city before listing his property on Airbnb, adding that he is willing to work with both neighbors and city officials to address concerns with his property being rented out.
While some neighbors have been supportive and even used the property themselves, Ostler said others have made it “very clear” that there is nothing he can do to appease them. He said his family has even gotten hate mail over the property.
“There’s no amount of cameras to add or rules to enforce,” Ostler said. “They simply just want it shut down and for it to be gone.”
Ostler added that he believes he should be able to decide how to use his property, into which he has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“For us, it comes down to property rights,” Ostler said. “So long as we’re not causing major problems (or) infringing on anyone else’s rights, we feel like we should be able to use our property the way that we feel like we would like to.”
Whiting said he has no issue with Airbnbs in general but that they need to be regulated by the city.
“I’m not taking the position that short-term rentals should not be allowed in Springville city,” said Whiting. “My position is that, much as in all the other cities within Utah, there needs to be some sort of regulation. There needs to be some sort of way to make sure that the neighborhoods are protected.”