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Gov. Cox says legislation targeting nightly rentals could come soon

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Trent Nelson / The Salt Lake Tribune
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Utah Gov. Spencer Cox speaks at his weekly news conference in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 20, 2021.

Short-term rentals are proliferating in Utah and Park City leads the state with 43% of its total housing stock used as nightly rentals. Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said legislation targeting that may be on the way.

According to the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah, there are nearly 4,000 nightly rentals in Park City proper. That’s more than anywhere else in Utah.

In second place is the Snyderville Basin, where more than a third of housing units are short-term rentals.

The lack of long-term housing means a significant portion of Park City’s workforce commutes in from elsewhere — over half of employees live outside Summit County.

A housing needs assessment published earlier this year found that a lack of affordable housing contributes to the local labor shortage. It also said that without policy intervention, the city “will increasingly become an enclave for the super-rich.”

At his monthly news conference on Thursday, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said the Legislature is considering empowering local control over nightly rentals.

“One of the ideas that is out there though is that we would give back a little bit of authority to our local municipalities to decide how they want to regulate those homes, those rentals in their own markets,” Cox said.

“They were doing that before, we pulled a little bit of that back, but that was before we had such a housing crisis.”

The governor said that tighter rules around nightly rentals could help move the needle on the state’s housing shortage.

Earlier this year, the Summit County Council considered a six-month moratorium on new nightly rental licenses in order to have time to consider new rules. The council ended up not taking any action, following a public hearing where many in the lodging industry voiced opposition.

State lawmakers have limited how cities and counties can regulate nightly rentals. While local governments can’t stop someone from listing their property on a nightly rental site, a county attorney told the council that doesn’t limit other aspects of regulation.

Up For Growth, a Washington-based housing policy group, recently published a report saying Utah’s housing deficit has increased by 41% since 2012. It ranks the Beehive State 18th in the U.S. in terms of the severity of its housing deficit — with over 50,000 units needed to meet the current need.

Cox said the legislative session next year could yield some changes around short-term rental rules.

“I’ve used Airbnbs, VRBOs, those nightly rentals — I think they’re great," he said.

"There’s obviously a demand for that in the economy and so I think we want to be careful to try to find that balance... We’re not going to eliminate them, that’s not on anyone’s radar.

"But certainly making sure that we’re careful in finding that balance and making sure there’s enough housing here for our kids and grandkids that want to live in the state is important. So I think you’ll see some legislation around that this year.”

A provision allowing more local enforcement of nightly rentals was originally included in the major H.B. 462 housing bill that passed this year, but didn’t make it into the final version.

Parker Malatesta covers Park City for KPCW. Before coming to NPR, he spent one year as a general assignment reporter for TownLift in Park City. He previously was the news editor at The News Record, the student paper at the University of Cincinnati. He loves running, reading, and urban planning.