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County Adopts Short-term Rental Regulations

Residents in zoned areas need permit and license to run short-term rentals such as Airbnb and VRBO

The Flathead County Commission voted 2-1 to approve new regulations for short-term rentals in zoned areas of the county, affecting homeowners who were operating rentals through websites such as Airbnb and VRBO.

Commissioners Pam Holmquist and Gary Krueger voted in favor of the regulations on Aug. 7, with Commissioner Phil Mitchell opposed.

With the new regulations in place, homeowners in these zoned areas can now legally rent out rooms or their homes for fewer than 30 days; prior to this new addition to the Flathead County Zoning Regulations, the rules stipulated that property owners could only rent their homes for stints of 30 days or longer.

Technically, that meant everyone in those zones participating in Airbnb or VRBO were out of compliance, Holmquist said.

“We should acknowledge that many of these operations were operating illegally through their zoning,” Holmquist said. “I’m happy that now we will actually regulate (short-term rentals).”

The county has spent months discussing how to do this, now that Kalispell, Whitefish and Columbia Falls have made decisions. The Northwest Montana Association of Realtors came to the county with a proposed text amendment to the Flathead County Zoning Regulations that provided the framework for permitting short-term rentals.

The approved text amendment allows for stays shorter than 30 days in zones where single-family dwelling units are allowed. The regulations require property owners to obtain an administrative conditional-use permit from the Flathead County Planning and Zoning Department, as well as a Public Accommodation License from the state, which is administered through the Flathead City-County Health Department.

The guidelines within the amendment include rules for maximum occupancy; staying true to homeowner associations and covenants; no signage other than address numbers; having a person or management company to contact 24 hours a day for emergencies or problems, with that contact information made available to adjacent and abutting property owners; and having enough parking spaces.

Initially, the text amendment also included maximum room occupancy standards of two people per room, as well as a requirement for two off-street parking spots. The commission voted to change the occupancy standard to whatever the sewage disposal capacity is and the parking standard to “adequate parking.”

Mitchell said without those two aspects written into the rules and another rule that he wanted requiring a minimum of three nights per stay, he couldn’t vote for the amendment to pass.

“I want VRBOs, but I want sideboards to help the neighbors,” Mitchell said before voting against the amendment.

Holmquist and Krueger said they believed the regulations would address those issues before voting to put the rules into the zoning regulations.

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