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Beltrami County residents weigh in on short-term rentals at public hearing

Members of the public were able to share their comments and concerns on a potential county ordinance that would regulate short-term rentals.

Beltrami County Administration Building web art

BEMIDJI — In a fuller than usual board room, the Beltrami County Board of Commissioners opened up its Tuesday meeting with a public hearing on a proposed ordinance that could regulate short-term rentals within the county.

Of the nearly 20 people who attended the hearing, eight community members took to the podium to share their comments on short-term rentals, which include services such as Airbnb and Vrbo.

While difficult to measure the exact number of short-term rentals currently operating in the county, the numbers have been growing alongside calls for regulation.

“They’re not regulated in Beltrami County,” said Brent Rud, who serves as the county’s division director of environmental services. “The best we can estimate, there are getting to be to around 50 of these.”

The increasing popularity of these services has also led to a growing number of complaints and concerns raised by neighbors, among them Bruce and Deb Schuman.

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Bruce told a story at the hearing of living next to a short-term rental, describing some of the incidents they've had to endure. These have included the rental having nearly 30 guests at once, high noise levels, trespassing and people riding snowmobiles on neighbor's lawns.

“To me it’s pretty important, you don’t want to be a nuisance to your neighbors,” Bruce said.

While he and his wife have reached out to the owner of the rental property repeatedly, Bruce said that nothing has changed from those conversations.

“We try to be good neighbors,” said Deb, “but enough is just about enough.”

This has led the Schumans toward becoming advocates for regulation, something they hope will help both their situation and others.

“We’ve had enough of ‘I’m sorry’ from owners,” Bruce said. “There’s got to be some kind of action.”

The proposed ordinance would institute a permitting process for short-term rental owners, divided into categories based on the maximum occupancy of the space. It would also require that owners keep detailed records of their guests in accordance with Minnesota statute.

Quiet hours for guests at short-term rentals would also be created, from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m., alongside other noise considerations to limit sound carrying over to neighboring homes.

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The noise was a particularly important part for Pat Kovar, who gave his experience as a resident of Hines Township, an area that has become particularly popular for short-term rentals. He shared the concerns his neighbors had brought forward about losing the sense of quiet that they had come to value about their community.

“They’ve lost their sense of living in the country, in peace and quiet,” Kovar said.

In the proposed ordinance, a complaint system would be available to report any short-term rental in violation of any rules, including for noise and safety issues. Consequences for violations would include fines, misdemeanor charges and the potential for the owner’s short-term rental permit to be revoked.

Responsible ownership

Among those who spoke at the public hearing were a number of individuals who currently own and operate short-term rentals. They spoke about how they work to operate these businesses responsibly and in a way that benefits their communities.

“I heavily, heavily vet my guests before they even arrive,” said Alisa McNallan. “I think it can be a huge difference depending on who’s running it.”

These sentiments were echoed by other short-term rental owners, many of whom also sympathized with the Schumans and any other neighbor who might have had a similarly negative experience living near a rental.

“I’d be upset, I’d be mad, too,” said Michelle Thooft, who owns a short-term rental with her husband. “We strive to have a quiet place where people can come to rest.”

Another common theme brought up by those who owned short-term rentals was how they can benefit the community and bring in people to local businesses.

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“The people who come here love it and use the restaurants, the bike trails, the parks,” said Miles Rouland. “You can read reviews and see the appreciation people have.”

With this, however, Deb pointed out that not every short-term rental owner is as responsible as another.

“I really appreciate the people who are responsible Vrbo owners,” Deb said. “Our neighbors next door are not those people.”

This relates back to the proposed regulation, something that none of the short-term rental owners who spoke at the public hearing were broadly opposed to.

“I have no problem whatsoever with holding people accountable to do it well,” said McNallan.

Following the public hearing the comments from community members will be taken into consideration and may lead to alterations in the language of the proposed ordinance.

“It’s always good to see our citizens participate in the process,” Commissioner Tim Sumner said.

Nicole Ronchetti is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer, focusing on local government and community health.
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