Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) While city data suggests short-term rentals represent a sliver of Missoula's housing stock, getting them registered remains an uphill task.

But several members of the Missoula City Council are looking to streamline the process to make it easier for business operators to comply with city regulations – and be able to do so in a reasonable amount of time.

“I'm not the only one stuck in this process,” said council member Jennifer Savage. “It's precisely why we're bringing forward a referral to streamline this process.”

Savage has been trying to get an application through the city to register a short-term rental since August 2022. Nearly two years later, it still hasn't been approved.

On Monday night, Savage detailed the challenges residents face in registering a short-term rental and bringing it into compliance with regulations. Her application, like many others, remains mired in red tape.

Savage said she submitted two applications for her short-term rental in 2022 – one with the city and one with the Missoula County Health Department. It wasn't until September 2023 that the city let her know she could finally schedule a building and fire inspection, which she passed.

However, by then the health department had lost Savage's application.

“It's my understanding from my many conversations over the past few months that due to lingering impacts of the pandemic, such as staff turnover and staff capacity, that the health department has not been able to turn the applications around quickly,” she said.

Vacation homes comprise only 1.5% of Missoula's housing stock, and those who operate such businesses are required to register them with the city. However, of the roughly 580 short-term rentals operating in Missoula, fewer than 130 have registered, according to the city.

Enforcement is a function of staffing and city officials have said staff members are largely focused on other issues, such as code reform. The city hopes to monitor the rental industry and ensure business owners comply with the law, but many of those owners have said the city's registration process is cumbersome, confusing and time consuming.

Savage has experienced that firsthand and hopes to see the process improved. Among the potential changes, City Council could decouple the city's registration process from that of the health department.

“That process will no longer be coupled with the city and its registering process,” Savage said. “The hope with this referral is that people like me can get registered with the city, get their listing number, have it listed and be done with the process.”

In recent years, a number of operators have said they rely upon the income earned from a short-term rental to make ends meet. None have gone on the public record in outright opposition to registration, though many have criticized the registration process and unnecessarily clumsy.

“We want to incentivize compliance. I think there's a couple easy ways to do that,” said council member Stacy Anderson.

A proposal set for discussion this week would require owners of short-term rentals to obtain a registration number from the city. It would also require listing platforms like AirBNB and VRBO to list the city registration numbers on the site.

It's one of several steps the city hopes to take to improve the business end of operating a vacation rental in Missoula.

"If we're requiring people to do a business license and go through that process and have it listed as a rental, then we need to make sure they can get that license in a reasonable amount of time,” Anderson said.

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