Flathead County Considers Regulations For Short-Term Housing

Jun 1, 2017

Flathead County Commissioners are considering a proposal to regulate short-term housing rentals outside of incorporated towns. 

Steve Pleasants rents out part of his home near Whitefish for a few weeks each summer. The extra income helps him pay his property taxes and covers small projects to improve his house. He says that shouldn’t be against the law.

"My house was built for people to live in. There's no difference there when someone comes and pays me some money to stay there," Pleasants says.

But what Pleasants is doing is technically illegal. He and others in the valley say it’s their freedom as property owners to use their houses as they want.

Pleasants and 18 other people testified at a public hearing before county commissioners on Thursday on a proposal to create regulations for short-term housing rentals on county land. Currently, regulations only exist in Kalispell, Columbia Falls and Whitefish.

Erica Wirtala works for the Northwest Montana Association of Realtors, the group proposing the new regulations. She says they’re necessary to protect homeowners, renters and neighbors.

"Without this text amendment, if people are doing a short-term rental, and somebody complains, they are shut down," Wirtala says. "This text amendment offers people a chance to make the application, go through the process and be legal."

The proposal would require owners of short-term rentals to obtain licenses and certificates from local health and fire departments, set a minimum number of parking spaces, and identify a person of contact available 24 hours a day.

Shannon McNamee, who works for vacation management company Vacasa, says these types of regulations are necessary for any type of rental in the county.

"We would like to see an even playing field in the Flathead Valley, because we are willing to play by the rules if you guys would help set some rules we could play by in this area."

Flathead County Commissioners heard public comment but took no action on Thursday. They plan to work on the language of the proposal next Tuesday, June 6, at 9:00 a.m. A 15-minute public comment period will precede their work session.