The Whitefish City Council has approved a new set of regulations for short-term rentals in the city, sharpening its tools to enforce rules governing.
City officials and tourism experts say the city has 50 registered short-term rental properties on record — meaning properties that are leased to people for 30 days or less — but some estimates place the actual number closer to 400.
Those unregistered properties are being illegally rented, and council members believe new regulations will create a fair playing field that doesn’t erode business as conducted by traditional lodging accommodations.
The city’s current zoning rules that define where rentals are allowed isn’t set to change, but the definition of a short-term rental was tweaked to include units in which the owner also resides. The addition of the new rule requires every individual unit to register for a short-term rental permit, even if the unit is part of the primary residence.
The city will also contract with a short-term rental compliance company to track the rentals and monitor property owners to ensure they are complicit with the new rules and regulations.
The company will notify the city whenever a new short-term property became available, prompting the city to follow up with the renter of the home or room to register them as a legal short-term rental.
Tourism leaders said tightening the regulations will force more short-term rental property owners to pay into the state Department of Revenue’s bed tax, 4 percent of which is earmarked for tourism promotion.
“We utilize those funds to promote Whitefish as a unique and authentic travel destination to those outside of the state of Montana,” said Dylan Boyle, executive director of the Whitefish Convention and Visitor Bureau.
Rhonda Fitzgerald, owner of the Garden Wall Inn in Whitefish, said the short-term rental market has grown out of control.
“This is a very important thing to adopt because we have a rapidly changing landscape out there with short-term rentals. Who could have thought two or three years ago that we would have over 400 of them in Whitefish, most of them unlicensed, hollowing out neighborhoods and really creating huge problems,” she said.