The 2015 Utah's Freest Cities Ranking

Short-term rental shutdown

The popularity of the "sharing economy" has exploded in recent years. Fueled by the proliferation of smart phones and the interconnected nature of social networks, services like Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, and VRBO, among many others, put idle resources to use, and money in the pocket of their owner.

In the case of Airbnb and VRBO, owners of residential property are able to more easily find and rent to others on a short-term basis—even a single evening. Vacation property owners can more easily afford their second home by putting it to use in their absence. Homeowners can subsidize their mortgages by renting out a basement or a single room.

Problem is, most Utah cities ban the practice altogether.

A few cities explicitly prohibit short-term rentals in single-family residential zones, such as Herriman, Hurricane, Provo St. George, Syracuse, and Washington.

Many other cities likewise ban short-term rentals, though not explicitly. In these cases, city zoning officials rely on land use prohibitions stipulating that any use of property that is not explicitly permitted in the law is, by default, prohibited. As such, since city planners and councils decades ago could not forsee the future popularity of short-term rentals and thus include them as a permitted use, they are outlawed.

Most cities we spoke with enforce these laws only a complaint basis, meaning that most homeowners using Airbnb or VRBO will continue to operate illegally without being bothered by the city, unless their neighbors learn about the situation and file a complaint with the city.

However, some Utah cities are proactively enforcing their prohibitions, having a city bureaucrat or police officer look up listings on these websites that are located in their city, and then sending notices and fines to each property owner. St. George and Orem take this approach—and potentially other cities that consider it illegal, but did not disclose their enforcement tactics to us.

We believe that these prohibitions are a violation of a property owner's rights. Any actual nuisance resulting from too many people in the home, or a loud party, etc., should be handled separately and narrowly, rather than broadly banning a practice that in 99% of cases is handled without incident or negative impact upon neighbors.