Letter to the Editor: When a house is not a home

Stock image portraying a family renting a home for a vacation stay | Photo by Getty Images, St. George News

OPINION — In 2007, Airbnb started with two hosts inviting a few guests to their home in San Francisco.

Rize Capital Chief Operating Officer Jerry Miyahara points to a screen showing the area Rize is hoping to build 550 residences, half of which would be short-term rentals, during the Ivins City Council meeting, Ivins, Utah, July 21, 2022 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Since then it has grown to over 4 million hosts which have welcomed over 1.5 billion guests in almost every corner of the world. Airbnb is just one of dozens of short-term rental platforms in the US alone, not including the self-managed, independent or private operators using their own platforms or social media.

Let’s agree that both the concept and the existence of short term rentals have a place in our world. While they provide a more private and home-like feel as opposed to a hotel, they also provide income opportunities to investors or homeowners who want to use their home to make a few extra dollars.

Everything has a price or cost. Price does not always mean dollars and cost does not always imply or relate to a benefit. In this narrative, we are looking at the mounting costs and the increasing price that we are paying in terms of impacts, more precisely put — the negative impacts on residential zoned neighborhoods.

Every political subdivision must decide how or where they place their priorities as they grow. The decision is whether they want to base their community on family or tourism and industry. Obviously, for fiscal reasons, some if not most will desire both. For communities that choose both, often there is no line of demarcation between the two. At best it’s a fuzzy line. In some cases, that line has been crossed, usually with no preconceived knowledge or forethought of the possible impacts and ramifications.

Those impacts include large-scale short term rentals that have been approved by zoning departments to operate in commercial capacities in residential neighborhoods. They include impacts on the housing industry which are now being reported worldwide. They also include impacts on the hotel industry where they are unfairly not held to the same standards for operation. And lastly, they impact jurisdictions where insufficient resources preclude adequate enforcement.

But the reality of today is that the impacts are here to stay unless we assist our local governments by providing them the tools and resources to lead them out of their dilemma. Their dilemma is, not acting to solve a problem out of fear, the results for them or their constituents could be worse than the problem itself.

Stock image portraying a family renting a home for a vacation stay | Photo by Getty Images, St. George News

In this narrative we are only going to focus on the impacts of short term rentals on residential zoned neighborhoods. In all fairness, it should be noted that there are STR’s that operate in residential zones with little impact. For these STR’s, we applaud their ability to blend in, follow the rules and operate in harmony with neighboring residents. This is an example of good compatible use. Unfortunately, and much to the demise of homeowners all over the country, this good compatible use is not consistently observed.

Many times you can tell that a house is an STR even when it isn’t occupied. On the outside it may appear to be a normal single family residence. Yet often there is some form of advertising in front of the house, sometimes required as a regulatory requirement for contact information. Sometimes you can tell by the large parking area as required by code, or the large recreational facilities such as large pools, basketball courts, outdoor lighting for nighttime activities, projection screens or sometimes something as simple as ten times more trash receptacles than what would normally be seen in front of someone’s home.

Please note the difference in the following choice of words, house versus home. There is a very important difference when you consider the requirements for compatible use. A home is where you live. As with most people, this is the center of your life. It’s all about family and home; a quiet and safe place for you and your family to retreat to after a full day of work, play or school. Most of you spend a third or more of your income to support your home and family. At the end of the day you and your loved ones have an inalienable right to the ”Quiet and Peaceful Enjoyment of Your Home.”

Contrast that to a totally different concept. A house is an object. It is really quite different from a home. A home is not a home without the residents that live in it. Similarly, a house is not a home without its residents that make it their home. It may seem like semantics, but it isn’t really, your home is what you make it. It’s the culmination of your sweat, equity, love and pride. In many neighborhoods a house now represents a commercial enterprise. It is quite different from a home with a daycare business or some other home-based occupation, which generally have similar requirements, regulations and are actually enforced.

The Airbnb website displaying short-term rental around the St. George area. | Image courtesy Airbnb.com, St. George News

A house is something that a short term rental guest rents for a very short period, usually only days. There is an important distinction to note here. That the guest lacks all the things that a homeowner has that makes his house a home. In so many ways, the homeowner is fully invested in his home and his neighborhood. The guest is not.

The guest has paid for his use of the house next door and intends to make every moment of its use count. He intends to get his money’s worth, often at the expense of neighboring homeowners. Often, and justifiably so, he feels a sense of entitlement. This should not come as a surprise to anyone. First and foremost, he’s not a guest. He is not a guest at the home next door because remember, it’s not a home it’s a house and he is not a guest because he is a paying customer. He is most definitely entitled. With that entitlement, comes certain inherent behaviors that are not acceptable and largely incompatible amidst a normal peaceful neighborhood.

These behaviors are contributing factors to the very core of the immediate problem that homeowners face. One would assume that the noise, traffic, parking and trespassing issues would be the core. It might be assumed that the lack of regulation and enforcement of these nuisances would be the core of the problem, but in fact It is not. The sad reality is, that it’s the effect that it has on you the homeowner. That is the core of the problem. It’s the feeling of anxiety when you see a commercial bus turn the corner and head your way while you’re unloading groceries or watering your flower bed.

Blood pressure begins to elevate as thirty plus screaming teenagers depart the bus and fill the yard next door. You retreat to your house, your heart racing as you know it’s going to be another challenging weekend. Your wife is standing at the kitchen sink and while she is preparing dinner you see her tears. It’s going to be another weekend from hell.

A map of Santa Clara shows several locations of short-term rental homes through Airbnb, a short-term rental home service. There are many more short-term rental homes in Santa Clara, including ones in vacation home communities like Paradise Village | Map courtesy of airbnb.com, St. George News

It is that emotional effect that is the core of the problem. Losing your rights as a homeowner is evolving into a human rights issue and we haven’t even begun discussing the larger human rights issue of the impact the industry is having on housing. It is a serious impact that affects homeowners is spreading around the country.

As previously noted, the industry itself is a great concept but without attention to zoning relative to compatible use, and strong enforceable regulations where allowed, the short-term rental issue has the potential to do significant damage to our communities.

So here is the crux of the issue. We have created an industry that in many cases is incompatible with residential zones. In some neighborhoods we have created a monster that is out of control. Homeowners are selling their homes, sometimes at a loss, in order to escape this madness. Their only hope without better regulation and enforcement, is that they find a new home that has a strong HOA with CC&R’s, wherever there are little or no local codes or enforcement.

There is an effective possible mitigating solution for this problem. I submit It requires every political subdivision, County, City or Township, that has any priority towards community and family based neighborhoods, to display the backbone and resolve to protect those families who live and have invested in residentially zoned neighborhoods.

It requires sweeping changes to ordinances and code, a means to accurately monitor the impacts, highly enforceable regulations and the political will to revoke licenses where STR’s can not demonstrate the ability to blend in and remain compatible.

Lastly, and most importantly, Utah needs to stand firmly behind each of its political subdivisions with unwavering support by asserting and affirming its commitment to protection of the inherent and inalienable rights of homeowners who live in residential zoned neighborhoods.

If you are concerned about this growing problem in our communities, please contact me and learn how you can help. Join our group of concerned homeowners that are working to make a difference. Email [email protected] for more information.

Submitted by MARK HUDGENS, Hurricane, Utah.

Letters to the Editor are not the product of St. George News, its editors, staff or news contributors. The matters stated and opinions given are the responsibility of the person submitting them. They do not reflect the product or opinion of St. George News and are given only light edit for technical style and formatting.

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