Vacation rentals: City looks to increase coordination, compliance as program grows

The Missoula City Council on Wednesday received an update on tourist homes in Missoula, with council members highlighting what they see as housing opportunities while encouraging better coordination between vacation rentals and the city and county.

The ordinance requires all tourist homes to register with the city, with about 75 currently in the system and 15 now in the application process.

“As far as our office’s view of this goes, we have a really good percentage of them registered right now,” said Tom Zavitz, senior planner for the City. “I didn’t think we would get to this point where I feel we’re at. We’re still obviously taking complaints and we get complaints fairly regularly, but most of them are room rentals, which we don’t regulate.”

The ordinance requires the owners of a tourist home to register their units with the City-County Health Department and the Montana Department of Revenue. Tourist homes are required to pay a bed tax.

The city’s inspection to ensure compliance with building codes, and an inspection by the fire department, take five minutes, Zavitz said. All inspections, including that by the health department, are designed to happen jointly.

But Zavitz said that less than half of the registered tourist homes have been inspected by the health department. Some tourist homes fail to register for inspections.

“I can tell you that we have not inspected all 75 of those, and we don’t have a great way of tracking that right now,” he said. “We know that when we get the call to inspect from the health department, we inspect.”

The Missoula Housing & Community Development office is looking to incentivize the construction of accessory dwelling units and offer ways to encourage homeowners or tourist homeowners to rent longterm.

Councilwoman Gwen Jones said that of the 16 houses in her neighborhood, three of them are usually vacant. The homeowners are generally travel for months out of the year or work out of state.

“I think it’s kind of interesting and I wonder how many houses are sitting vacant out there during the year, during the winter,” Jones said.

The Wilma and the Penwell Building house a majority of tourist homes that are registered with the City, Zavitz said. He added that Missoula doesn’t have the same quantity of tourist homes as does Bozeman and Whitefish.

Missoula’s ordinance requires residents who rent a private home or condominium that is not occupied by the owner or manager on a daily or weekly basis to register with Development Services annually. Neighbors within 150 feet are to be notified about the vacation rental.

Three or more violations will result in the revocation of the home’s registration to operate within the city for a year.

“There were a number of reasons why we did this, but one of them was because it was clear that in residential zoning districts, there were short-term rentals taking place and the idea was to provide sideboards around that, which seems like it’s working pretty well,” councilman John DiBari said.

Contact reporter Mari Hall via email at mari.hall@missoulacurrent.com.