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Short-term rentals may face tougher ordinance

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Kevin Hoffman
December 19, 2010
— Lake Geneva is considering regulations that would prohibit transient rentals in all residential zoning and in neighborhood business and office districts.

The proposal would not relax the prohibition on rentals shorter than 30 days, which is only allowed at hotels and bed and breakfast businesses.


A public hearing is scheduled for Monday to gather the community’s input.


The proposal comes months after a debate at the county level about whether to consider allowing rentals shorter than a month. That proposal was rejected.


The debate over short-term rentals has quietly divided residents in Walworth County for years.


On one side, homeowners argue that rowdy tourists disrupt neighborhoods and quality of life. Proponents say they have a right to use their homes however they wish, and only a minority of inconsiderate transients cause trouble.


The county zoning agency halted additional review of a new ordinance this fall. It could have led to stronger oversight on landlords but allowed shorter rentals, requiring property owners to comply with state laws that strictly enforce safety and occupancy regulations.


As it stands, the county ordinance allows only hotels and bed and breakfast businesses to rent for fewer than 30 days. Short-term rentals are subject to state inspections, and violations put their licensing at risk.


Those who favored changing the county ordinance argued that allowing week-to-week rentals would have opened a new tax revenue stream. State law allows a maximum 8 percent room tax, which some believe could draw in tens of thousands of dollars for municipalities.


Lake Geneva is proposing to go in the opposite direction.


The proposed amendment to the city’s ordinance would not only continue the ban on week-to-week rentals, it would further restrict where month-to-month rentals would be allowed.


The proposal would redefine commercial indoor lodging by including property “intended and managed to accommodate transients and tourists.”


It wouldn’t include bed and breakfast businesses but would prohibit single-family dwellings for use as commercial lodging.


“It just seems a bit crazy,” said Cass Kordecki of Geneva Township. “The phrase that I stole from somebody down in Florida is, ‘This appears to be a sledgehammer to kill a gnat.’”


Kordecki is a landlord and one of the county’s biggest short-term rental supporters. She has rented to traveling nurses and families waiting for their homes to be built but never to large groups that throw raucous parties, she said.


But some homeowners do, opponents argue. Thomas Laughlin earlier this fall complained that someone in his neighborhood was renting to crowds of people.


Eventually, police got involved.


The landlord was taken to court and since has been more courteous, Laughlin said.


Laughlin lives more than a mile outside of Lake Geneva city limits, but he said he supported what the city is trying to accomplish.


“I’m in favor of any ordinance that tightens the lid on short-term rentals,” he said.


Kordecki continues to fight for homeowner rights, and said she plans to attend Monday’s hearing to try and convince the city to reconsider.


Walworth County was seventh in the state last year in tourism spending, totaling $370.5 million.


At least three communities—Delavan, Linn and East Troy—wrote letters to the county this fall supporting short-term rentals and an amendment to the county’s zoning restrictions.


IF YOU GO


What: Public hearing before the Lake Geneva Planning Commission on a zoning ordinance amendment redefining commercial land use


Where: Lake Geneva City Hall, 626 Geneva St.


When: 6:30 p.m. Monday



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