Spring Park opted to leave the regulation of its long-term rental properties with Hennepin County after council members rejected a proposed ordinance that would have transferred some of this authority to the city, particularly with regard to licensure and inspections.

The ordinance, which would have locally governed rental operations of 30 or more days in Spring Park’s single- and two-family homes, was voted down 4-0 Aug. 17, with council member Jeff Hoffman absent.

“I think we have enough government interference in our lives now without adding something else to it,” Spring Park Mayor Jerry Rockvam commented during a July 20 work session, commenting that residents already have recourse to the county for any complaints and that the city sees few problem properties. Council discussion on the ordinance was largely limited to a pair of work sessions in May and July this year, and last Monday’s vote was a quick affair.

The ordinance dismissed by council Aug. 17 was a much different one than that which came out of the planning commission last fall and which had caused a stir across three public hearings held by commissioners since starting work on the project in May 2018.

Residents at those hearings and council members during their work sessions were generally in agreement that the ordinance was a duplicative measure when Hennepin County already regulates rental housing. Planning commissioners had recommended Oct. 16 last year that council approve an ordinance for regulating all long-term rentals in Spring Park, excluding Lake Minnetonka Shores senior living facility.

Early council discussion in May this year had shown some support for an ordinance that would apply only to the regulation of long-term rentals run out of single- and two-family homes and not to townhomes, condos or multi-family buildings. That support, however, died out even after staff had amended the ordinance to reflect council’s preference.

The city began looking into local-level regulation, including licensing and inspections, of its long-term rental properties in large part to set a minimum standard for their upkeep and operation and to provide what was hoped to be a quicker remediation process for landlord and tenant complaints.

Hennepin County already handles such complaints, but Al Brixius, city planner for Spring Park, had commented that it can be a slow process, sometimes stretching out for a month or more, even when a tenant’s rent is held in escrow.

Though council was simpatico with that view, the debate came down to a question of necessity in adopting an ordinance and taking on regulatory authority to address what were only “a few bad apples.”

“It’s one of those things where you wish you could just go up to those properties and say, ‘Fix it up and just make it look nice and we won’t have to worry about this,’” said Dan Tolsma, city administrator, during the May work session. Tolsma estimated that only a handful of the city’s long-term rentals would have been impacted by the city’s ordinance.

VRBO UNLIKELY

Though council has now opted to leave all long-term rental oversight with Hennepin County, still under consideration and sent back to the planning commission is a proposed ordinance that would specifically prohibit residents from renting out their homes for fewer than 30 days.

Short-term rentals, also sometimes referred to as vacation rentals or VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner) are currently prohibited in Spring Park but only by a tacit catch-all in the city’s zoning code that prohibits any use not specifically permitted.

An analysis by Spring Park city officials reveals that no Lake Minnetonka city currently allows short-term rental operations, whether by a specific code provision or by similar catch-all phrasing as that found in Spring Park’s code.

The current draft ordinance defines short-term rental as “The commercial use of a dwelling unit rented for a period of less than 30 consecutive days, including but not limited to tourist or transient use, vacation homes, bed and breakfast.”

A straw poll taken at a May 18 work session showed that three of Spring Park’s five-member council were opposed to allowing short-term rentals in the city, citing them as a potential nuisances to those living nearby.

Mayor Rockvam indicated at that time that he had no objection to allowing short-term rentals in Spring Park, noting the attraction of Lake Minnetonka for vacationing but also suggesting a hotel or motel might be a better solution. The new version of the short-term ordinance leaves open the possibility of a future motel or hotel in the city’s commercial districts.

Council member Jeff Hoffman was in May neither for nor opposed to short-term rentals and said it was just a matter of regulating what the city wanted.

“Currently it’s not a permitted use in the city and it’s going on so we need to address that,” Hoffman had said. “Secondly, if we do allow it, we want to be able to have an ordinance or a vehicle in place to properly control it and not just call the police. Because if you can call the police umpteen times but you don’t have an ordinance that says you can’t do this [then] it’s going to continue to happen.”

Early discussion around VRBO while still in the planning commission stage had alluded to three poperties in the city now operating as short-term rentals in spite of the prohibition. Commissioners had recommended last fall that the city regulate VRBO, thereby also allowing the practice. Since then, a revised draft ordinance was created to specifically prohibit such rentals. That revised ordinance has been sent back to the planning commission for a public hearing Sept. 9 with a likely appearance before council at a regular session Sept. 21.

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