Crow Wing cities regain control over short-term vacation rental regulation

The new ordinance reconfigures Crow Wing County's authority, plus reduces occupancy limits and bans any property with an open land use enforcement case from acquiring a license.

Cruises offer a view of Gull Lake from the water, including a lakeside look at luxury homes and historic resorts.
A home on Gull Lake is under construction in 2014.
Brainerd Dispatch file photo

BRAINERD — All Crow Wing County city governments now have the opportunity to regulate or license short-term vacation rentals in the manner they wish.

In a 3-2 vote, the Crow Wing County Board backed a new version of the short-term rental ordinance Tuesday, Jan. 3, which roots regulation of the properties in the county’s land use authority instead of its public health authority. This means the ordinance only applies in areas where the county manages planning and zoning — not countywide regardless of local regulations, as the public health authority provided.

Under the new ordinance, city leaders can opt into continued regulation by the county on a contract basis or they can pursue their own regulations and enforcement. This could include banning short-term rentals entirely if they wish. Beyond the cities, two townships in Crow Wing County — Irondale and Crow Wing townships — also manage their own planning and zoning.

County Board - Griffin 10-11-22.jpg
Land Services Director Gary Griffin, left, and environmental services supervisor Jake Frie answer questions about the county's short-term rental ordinance Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022, Crow Wing County Board meeting.
Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch

No one spoke during a public hearing before the board’s decision Tuesday, but people offered hours of commentary during previous hearings and meetings.

“There’s a lot of background about how we got to where we are and I think it was very good, robust feedback that we got from multiple meetings, multiple inputs,” said Jake Frie, environmental services supervisor, during Tuesday’s meeting. “So I think the fact that we didn’t have any comments here today, I don’t think means that people don’t care. I think it’s more reflective of the fact that we’ve vetted this probably pretty good.”


Since the board began considering revisions to the ordinance in August 2022, members of the public raised a number of concerns with the current operating procedure, including whether the ordinance was restrictive enough or whether the county enforced it effectively. One complaint in particular, however, garnered significant attention as commissioners grappled with how to weigh sometimes competing feedback: that of city governments who felt the county ignored their preferences for how to manage short-term rentals.

“The council does not desire to exclude short-term rentals entirely, but to effectively manage how they operate and where they operate,” said Breezy Point City Administrator David Chanski during an October 2022 board meeting. “This puts the city in the position of being in constant conflict with Crow Wing County, a position for which the county is solely responsible. … Not even the state of Minnesota is so disrespectful to local control.”

At the Nov. 15, 2022, committee of the whole meeting, local officials were invited to express their viewpoints on how the county should handle short-term rentals moving forward.

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Some city governments, like Riverton’s, indicated they preferred to take over short-term rental regulations themselves. Riverton Mayor Dave Peterson told commissioners in November that two homes, sold in the city recently, went to people wishing to establish short-term rentals. A moratorium is in effect there while city officials determine the best way to proceed.

“Every time a house is bought up and a short-term rental is going to be put there, that takes away a home in Riverton for a family to live there full time,” Peterson said.

Others, like the government of Nisswa, would rather the county continue taking charge of the matter. At the same November meeting, Nisswa City Administrator Jenny Max said while the City Council is sensitive to other communities struggling with vacation rentals, Nisswa has been fortunate to not have many issues.

“Even though we are one of the larger cities within the county, it would be a significant challenge to have the capacity to manage who is online trying to rent out,” Max said, adding septic compliance would be another difficult matter for the city.

The short-term rental ordinance, which went into effect at the beginning of 2021 , outlines the responsibilities of operators to abide by rules concerning septic systems and solid waste, occupancy, noise, parking and conformity with existing county and state requirements. It also establishes penalties for not resolving complaints.


The ordinance states short-term rentals will not be allowed to operate in the county without an annual license and defines these rentals as “any home, cabin, condominium or similar building that is advertised as, or held out to be, a place where sleeping quarters are furnished to the public on a nightly, weekly, or for less than a 30-day time period and is not a bed and breakfast, resort, hotel or motel.”

The original ordinance required licensed short-term rentals to limit overnight occupancy to four people per bedroom, plus one more person in the unit. The new version adopted Tuesday limits the number to three people per bedroom, plus one. Another change in the new version means the county will not issue a license to a property if an open enforcement case over a land use violation exists with the county.

Statistics compiled by the land services department showed a total of 475 active licenses existed in 2022, an increase of 113 over the number of licenses issued in 2021. Nearly half of these rental properties were in District 2, which includes the vacation destinations of the Whitefish Chain of Lakes and the communities of Crosslake, Breezy Point and Nisswa. Another 27% are in District 5, which covers the northeastern and central portions of the county including the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area.

Commissioner Doug Houge made the motion to adopt the new short-term rental ordinance using the county’s land use authority, and Commissioner Steve Barrows seconded. Commissioner Jon Lubke joined Houge and Barrows in voting for the ordinance, while Commissioner Paul Koering and Chairwoman Rosemary Franzen voted against. A second motion to repeal the original ordinance grounded in public health authority gained full support.

Both Koering and Franzen have opposed the short-term rental ordinance from its inception.

Visit for a map of all licensed short-term rentals in Crow Wing County.

CHELSEY PERKINS, community editor, may be reached at 218-855-5874 or . Follow on Twitter at .

Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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