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Objects to short-term rental

by PAT MALONE
| December 13, 2023 2:00 AM

I bought property in Columbia Falls in 2000 for four reasons: Glacier National Park, Whitefish Mountain Resort, the Flathead’s natural beauty, and the friendly spirit of the people. Most of my neighbors were Montana natives or had lived here since at least the late 1970s or early 1980s. We shared a common bond of raising kids in stable neighborhoods with other mostly homeowners. About 10 years ago, new changes started to occur to destabilize our neighborhood.

One big change was short term rentals (STR, under 30 day stay). While vacation rentals gained popularity in the 1950s, short term or nightly rentals by private homeowners wasn’t available until online platforms like VRBO and AirBNB began. The big difference is that one involves your neighbor’s mountain condo, lake home or now campers and the other are commercial facilities. Another difference is that STR renters are relatively anonymous whereas with a hotel you must provide state ID, register your car and produce a credit card with picture ID (and there is 24/7 onsite management). None of that happens with STRs. So naturally some issues have arisen.

Even national booking sites identify the challenges of allowing STRs. Here are a few: they take away long-term housing for locals; they generate more noise, traffic, parking, crime and general disruption than long-term residents, and they can force up long-term rental rates and cause more evictions and homelessness, among others. And, while most towns require some level of permitting, many studies suggest that twice as many STRs operate illegally with no oversight.

I’ve been a property manager for 40 years with great success. The reason is I highly “vet” our renters (background, employment, criminal checks and references). None of that happens with STRs. As long as someone has a valid credit card, a sexual or violent offender, pimp or drug dealer can rent that property. For these and other reasons, I can’t find a single town that is not moving to limit and/or restrict further STRs. Don’t we, our children and our neighbor’s deserve better? If yes, contact the Columbia Falls Council and express your concern.

Pat Malone

Columbia Falls

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