MISSOULA - Housing officials added details Wednesday to the recent study conducted on short-term rentals in Missoula, and further explained the rationale behind their recommendations that City Council increase the registration fee but refrain from placing a moratorium on the practice.
Doing the latter could prompt the Montana Legislature to change state law early next year in a bid to protect private property rights. Doing so would make it harder for the city to monitor short-term rentals and make future regulatory changes, officials said.
For now, the city's housing officials have recommended an increase to the registration fee and updating the city's registration form so that it captures more real-time data on the short-term rental market.
“That will help us collect more information from operators to really have that qualitative data on what's happening on the ground,” said Emily Harris-Shears, the city's housing policy specialist. “It might be something we can learn with more information from operators.”
The report, compiled by Granicus software, found 445 unique short-term rental listings, with 110 registered with the city. The disparity doesn't mean the other listings are out of compliance with city ordinance but rather, that they're owner-occupied most of the year.
Rikki Henderson, the city's housing program manager, said around 61% of the current listings are single-family units, and 95% rent the entire unit. Most listings are one and two-bedroom units that list for the average price of $150 a night.
Housing officials believe many property owners use the revenue as supplemental income. They also said that while the study was conducted in April, a more recent look suggested the number of listings have remained consistent.
“We have a relatively small number of listings per 100,000 households,” she Henderson. “We're a bit higher than Billings but significantly lower than resort-style communities.”
Gathering more information could go far in answering additional questions, housing officials said, including who is renting the units and why.
Currently, the city's housing experts said short-term rentals are used by local residents, not just tourists.
“They're people between rentals, people displaced from a long-term rental, folks who had damage to their house who lived in a short-term rental while awaiting repairs,” said Henderson. “We heard from folks that members of our refugee community are utilizing these as they wait for long-term housing. There's a lot of nuances. It's why we proposed more active monitoring of these units.”
Despite the data, some community members have called for an outright ban on short-term rentals, suggesting they have a negative impact on the city's stock of available housing.
The Granicus study suggested that just 1.5% of the city's housing was being used as a short-term rental. City officials also suggested that a moratorium might be illegal under both state and federal law.
Other cities have tried but have been overturned in court.
“Montana's state Constitution has inalienable rights which include acquiring, possessing, and protecting property. There's also the equal protection clause under the U.S. Constitution, and there are powers denied to local governments which include any power affecting any private or civil relationship,” said council member Gwen Jones. “We can't regulate in that form or fashion. It's been a common refrain, but we can't really go there.”
Taking a harder tact at this point in time could also draw push-back from the Legislature when it convenes in January, said Harris-Shears.
“We're mindful about measures that would potentially inspire intervention,” she said. “We're thinking about a new session and want to be thoughtful about measures that we might implement or propose that could potentially inspire intervention by the Legislature that might challenge our ability to implement our current approach, or any potential future recommendations.”