BEMIDJI -- After nearly six months of meetings, reviews and public hearings, the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board has opted not to allow short-term home rentals in Bemidji city limits or Northern Township.

At its meeting Wednesday, the board was presented with an ordinance from staff, approved by the Joint Planning Commission, that would set a number of regulations on people wanting to rent their homes in the JPB’s jurisdiction of the Bemidji city limits and Northern Township.

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Rentals listed in the ordinance included homes or sections of homes rented for a period of less than 30 consecutive days.

In the past few years, these rentals have become increasingly popular and are commonly known as either “Airbnbs” or “VRBOs” (Vacation Rental by Owner), in reference to the two companies that assist property owners in renting out their houses.

Outside of Bemidji city limits and Northern Township, Beltrami County Administrator Kay Mack said housing rules, such as regulations on rentals, are up to individual municipal governments.

For the JPB, discussion about the rentals started in earnest in November. There were four rental units in the city of Bemidji and Northern Township at that time, and there was an application submitted for a fifth unit.

But because the JPB heard concerns from nearby neighbors, they opted to put a moratorium in place until May to review the situation and create an ordinance to regulate how the rentals operate. An ordinance was drafted and was passed by the JPC on March 29, yet the JPB felt it shouldn’t go forward.

“This whole thing is a can of worms,” said JPB member Michael Kelly. “It’s going to be time consuming, now we’re becoming monitors with rental type situations. I think there’s not enough benefit.”

In his remarks, JPB member Jess Frenzel noted the residents present Wednesday’s meeting who voiced their concerns about the situation.

“There’s nobody coming out here saying anything in favor of it, and the fact that you all come out here and say something about not being OK with it, does make it hard for me to sit here and push this forward,” Frenzel said. “Until somebody comes and says we should allow them, I’m going to say this is the consensus we have in this neighborhood.”

JPB Chair Michael Meehlhause, a Bemidji City Council member, though, didn’t favor an outright ban of the rentals, and said that he didn’t feel that it was likely for there to be too many of them in the community.

“We’ve had a number of neighbors that are against these in their neighborhood and that’s really important. I would say the IUP process does allow for neighborhood comments, though, and this proposed process would as well,” Meehlhause said. “I think we should consider allowing a person to have a VRBO when all their neighbors are OK with it.”

An IUP is an interim use permit, which in this case, homeowners need if they wish to rent. To acquire an IUP, owners must submit an application to planning staff.

A motion passed 4-1 directing staff to create an ordinance to prohibit such rentals in the city and Northern Township. There are three current rental units and the property owners will be able to continue their operations until their respective interim use permits expire.

Voting in favor were Frenzel and Kelly, as well as JPB members Bemidji Mayor Rita Albrecht and council member Nancy Erickson. The no vote came from Meehlhause.

Had the JPB opted to allow the rentals, an option they had was approving the drafted ordinance, which would set rules such as:

  • Two people permitted per room in the unit.
  • No on-street parking is allowed for guests.
  • No events with more than four unregistered guests allowed
  • Permit revocation in cases of three ordinance violations.

The ordinance also would have set a limit of 90 rental days in a calendar year and would require a owner to acquire a special annual permit to allow for inspections along with the standard interim use permit to utilize the building as a VRBO.