Crow Wing County officials met Thursday, Sept. 19, with more than 30 elected officials and staff of various local cities and townships to discusses issues regarding vacation rentals by owner (VRBO), any potential ordinances that should be enacted regarding VRBOs, and how those ordinances should be enforced.

The meeting at Breezy Point City Hall was conducted by County Commissioner Bill Brekken, along with County Administrator Tim Houle, Land Services Supervisor Gary Griffin, Business Manager Jessica Shea and fellow commissioners Steve Barrows and Doug Houge.

Common complaints surrounding VRBOs are noise, parking and septic issues. As most issues occur at night or on weekends, it is not uncommon for police and sheriff’s departments to field complaints regarding the weekend tenants after they have already left.

Some properties listed online, according to Houle, say they house two to three times the number of people as the property was designed for.

“I believe in people’s property rights - that they should be able to do with their property what they want,” Brekken said. “But what happens with this is that the complaints we seem to get are when they infringe on the neighbors’ property rights … This is something we are going to be dealing with as we go forward.”

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County officials said a primary objective for the county is to identify how many VRBOs exist in Crow Wing County. That may not be a simple task, as some local officials - when asked how many were in their area - had answers similar to that of Pelican Township Board member Bruce Galles.

“We have no clue,” he said. “We know we have several.”

Other local government officials said their cities and townships have a rough idea of the number of VRBOs, and many of them operate with few issues.

“Like everything, 80% or 90% of them are successful and 10% of them aren’t,” Crosslake Mayor Dave Nevin said. “There are a lot of complaints with that 10% of them.

A few local representatives said their communities already have a short-term rental ordinance, including Pequot Lakes City Administrator Nancy Malecha.

The two key issues for the county regarding vacation rentals is how they should be taxed and what regulations are necessary from a planning and zoning standpoint.

“The state Department of Revenue is giving us new guidance that a vacation rental needs to be taxed as commercial if its primary use is as a vacation rental,” Houle said. “What is the primary use? Is it the number of days rented? Is it the number of days it is available to rent? Is it the fact it is available at all?"

It could be a conditional use permit, it could be an interim use permit or it could be a permitted activity,” Houle said. “What that regulation would look like, we are not there yet. What we are here for is to listen to you guys about what problems you are experiencing. What we need to know is are you guys going to step into this breach and regulate it yourselves ... or would you rather the county (regulates the issue)?”

However, addressing the issues brought forward may have to wait until the vacation rentals in Crow Wing County have been located and properly identified.

“We, as a county, have to identify vacation rentals and then try to figure out if they are rented strictly as a business - 100%, always available to rent - or if someone is renting 40% and whether that falls under the line … There are more Airbnb rooms in the world than there are hotel rooms, so this is not going away,” Brekken said.

County officials discussed the idea of a 24-hour hotline for complaints to be fielded at any time.

When polled, the majority of local officials preferred VRBOs be regulated at the county level, assuming no substantial legislation would come from the state government.