Planning Board Deadlocks on Short-term Rental Amendment

Proposal moves forward to county commission without a direct recommendation from board

By Molly Priddy
Shutterstock photo.

The Flathead County Planning Board deadlocked on a vote about whether to recommend the proposed regulations for short-term rentals within the county, sending the issue to the Flathead County Commission.

According to Planning Director Mark Mussman, the March 8 planning board meeting ended in a 4-4 tie vote over the suggested rules, which would legally allow residents in zoned areas of the county to rent out their properties for fewer than 30 days at a time.

In a vote on whether to recommend the proposed rule changes to the Flathead County Commission, board members Dean Sirucek, Sandra Nogal, Jeff Larson, and Kevin Lake voted yes, and members Jim Heim, Rita Hall, Ron Schlegel, and Mike Horn voted no. Board member Greg Stevens was absent.

Proposed by the Northwest Montana Association of Realtors, the amendment would change the Flathead County Zoning Regulations to allow for rental stays shorter than 30 days in a residence. Currently, the regulations only allow property owners to rent out their homes for stints of 30 days or longer.

The regulations would include rules about 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 a minimum of two off-street parking spaces.

Applicants for short-term rentals must also obtain a state of Montana Public Accommodation License for a Tourist Home, which is administered through the Flathead City-County Health Department and is subject to annual inspections. The owners must also obtain a “health and safety” certificate from a local fire department.

The rentals would also be subject to the state bed tax.

Concerns raised by the public about the proposed amendment include but are not limited to noise pollution; lack of consideration from renters and owners for neighbors; garbage; lack of parking; and housing price depreciation.

Mussman said he modified some of the performance standards for the board, such as excluding the North Fork from the amendment, making maximum occupancy three adults per sleeping area plus two additional persons, and having one parking space per sleeping area.

None of those changes made it to the version sent to the Flathead County Commission, Mussman said, so if the commissioners would like them, they will have to add them.

Mussman said one of the reasons the board split was indecision from two members who said these types of rentals should be an allowed use in all zones and that property owners shouldn’t have to go through an application process to use their property this way.

Mussman estimated there are about 200 short-term rentals in zoned areas of the county available on various websites and apps, and few of those rentals are likely allowed in the current zoning uses.

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