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Lake Geneva Plan Commission favors rental amendment

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Kevin Hoffman
December 21, 2010
— The Lake Geneva Plan Commission passed an amendment to a city ordinance regulating commercial lodging, though city officials admit it will do almost nothing to deter landlords illegally renting to tourists.

Commissioners on Monday voted 5-1 to add language to the ordinance that Zoning Administrator Barney Brugger said will ultimately help the city deal with homeowners renting their property illegally. Actually finding those homeowners, however, still poses a problem.


Brugger said he deals with about one landlord each year, sending that landlord a letter reminding him or her that renting to transients is prohibited in city limits. The issue is that the ordinance is unclear, Brugger said, and the plan commission's action Monday is the first step toward improving its position.


The amendment was forwarded to the city council for approval.


"It's a growing trend, and if we don't get our ordinance in line, there could be more," Brugger said.


Rentals of less than 30 days already are prohibited, but the amendment would strengthen the city's grasp on transient-geared landlords by specifying the ordinance. Hotels and bed and breakfast businesses are excluded.


The new ordinance would redefine commercial indoor lodging to include homeowners renting to tourists and transients. It then bans those homes from residential and neighborhood business and office zoning districts, which already was prohibited. The rule, however, was unclear.


A public hearing was held during Monday's meeting, and nearly all of the six residents who spoke agreed there needed to be regulation. The biggest question involved what kind it should be.


Police aren't responsible for enforcing the ordinance, and Brugger previously admitted it's difficult to distinguish between transients and families renting legally. Renters usually get caught only when they cause a disturbance, forcing neighbors to report them.


Debbie Nelson, a Lake Geneva landlord renting out commercial property, said allowing transient rentals in residential neighborhoods would put her out of business. She favored making the ordinance more specific, and recommended the city consider steep fines for violators.


Cass Kordecki, one of the strongest proponents of transient rentals, agreed there should be strict regulation to weed out problematic landlords. If homeowners were made to be licensed, they would have to meet strict state guidelines and could be audited at any time to make sure they're in compliance with health and safety codes.


Commissioner Cindy Flower voted against the amendment, saying it does nothing to address the problem. She said her family constantly seeks home rentals when vacationing in Florida as a cost-efficient alternative to hotels.


Mayor Jim Connors supported the change, calling it a "step in the right direction."


If the measure is approved by the city council, Brugger said it would be easier to fine property owners for zoning violations, which could be as much as $1,000.



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