MINOCQUA – Bowing to a new state mandate, the Minocqua Planning Commission has approved the first short-term rental in a single-family residential district, which Oneida County had previously said was off-limits for fewer than 30 days rental.
The 2017 state budget Gov. Scott Walker signed contained a last-minute provision (Act 59) that supersedes that restriction and similar ones across the state. Now, municipalities can only prohibit short-term rentals of fewer than seven days, no matter the zoned district. The impact could be far-reaching in northern Wisconsin where there are a large number of second homes in single-family residential districts, especially along lakes, that could be rented out short term. The Wisconsin Realtors Association supported the measure, saying short-term rentals allow homeowners in the second-home real estate market to profit from their investments. The association said there is growing demand for 1 and 2 week rentals in that segment of the real estate market.
But Town Chairman Mark Hartzheim was not pleased about the loss of county zoning authority. (Minocqua does not have its own zoning, and is under the county code.) He said the Act 59 means homeowners in a single-family residential district would no longer be guaranteed full enjoyment of that district. Nor can neighbors petition their local representatives to deny the requested administrative review permit (ARP). “I think that’s the struggle we have with this . . . is the state took that away from the neighbors,” the town chairman said. “They said, ‘Your opinion doesn’t matter anymore. You bought a home in single-family residential zoning with the expectation that you can live here year round as your primary residence and enjoy a certain level of peace and quiet and enjoyment. We’re taking it away from you because we think people should be able to do whatever they want with their property.’ “I don’t agree with that because they are taking away the one zoning classification where people can expect they can have use of it as a single family residential. There are other districts that allow short-term rentals. It’s going to change the complexion of these neighborhoods.”
Hartzheim said short-term renters are apt to be more vocal and boisterous than longer-term renters who want to keep their landlords happy – and their leases intact -- by not causing problems. “I’m concerned about the guy who doesn’t care,” said Hartzheim. “A one-week customer is a lot different than a long-term customer.” The ARP applicant, William Pritchard, said he understood the concerns, but promised to hold his short-term renters to the same high standards, as he has required of his previous renters of 30 days or more. That house at 9145 Point Drive in Minocqua has been rented seasonally and year-round for the past 10 years, he noted, with no complaints by neighbors. Commissioners said their concerns did not necessarily reflect on Pritchard’s request. Commissioners were more concerned about how to deal with the expected influx of short-term rental requests and their impact on neighborhoods.
To that end, the town is having town attorney Greg Harrold draft a new ordinance to be taken up at the Jan. 16 town board meeting. That ordinance would prohibit rental of six days or less in a single-family residential district, require a local permit (initial and annual), collection and remittance of the local 4% room tax to the town treasurer, as well as stipulations on parking spaces and trash location. Airbnb, a popular lodging marketplace, has struck an agreement with Wisconsin Department of Revenue to collect and remit state-administered taxes on lodging. Airbnb will collect state and county sales taxes, as well as premier resort area tax (PRAT). Both Eagle River and Rhinelander have PRAT. Harrold said the new law means homeowners doing weekend rentals on the sly in single-family residential districts and dodging room tax collections will be in for a surprise. “Everybody has a story or two that they can tell about people that rent their residence in a single family residential zoned areas on a weekly basis,” he said. “They haven’t been collecting room tax. They haven’t been getting inspected. So now it’s going to bring the spotlight down on those areas a little more, and there’s going to be a mechanism here to regulate them and collect fees from them.” The commission agreed that the new ordinance should be retroactive to Pritchard’s ARP and any others that are approved before its passage.
The county plans to enact similar restrictions of six days or fewer and will require an annual health inspection, as well as a septic system review if not on municipal sewer and water, said zoning administrator Karl Jennrich. In addition, the homeowner or agent would have to get a tourist rooming house license from the state Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection. Each rental property would have to have a sign posted inside listing contact information in case of complaints or problems. Additionally an annual fire inspection would ensure smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers are in good working order. Act 59 allows municipalities to set a maximum of 180 days within any consecutive 365-day period for short-term rentals on a single property, but Hartzheim said the town would not be interested in that authority.
Newly installed commission member Brian Fricke, who cast the only “no” vote, alluded to the proliferation of homeowner installed buoys that sprang up on the Minocqua Chain of Lakes last year, and wondered if it didn’t portend a similar rash of rental signs going up and down the lake. Jennrich said he would look into the issue. “There is no need for those signs on the lakefront,” he said, expressing a personal opinion. Fricke also wondered if such tourist rooming facilities would need to be compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act. No one had a ready answer for that one.