Janesville49°

Walworth County studying policy on short-term rentals

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Pedro Oliveira Jr.
May 21, 2010
— Officials are likely to change the way the county handles short-term rentals of Walworth County lakefront properties, even if the ordinance that forbids the practice is not amended.

Members of the County Zoning Agency on Thursday began discussing what to do with short-term rentals, a hot topic in lake communities around the county. Under current zoning, only rentals of 30 days or more are allowed in Walworth County.


But officials admit the practice does occur. Some say enforcing the law is a nightmare.


Michael Cotter, director of the county's Land Use and Resource Management Department, said he will use the next month to gather ideas on how to address the issue. The options are allowing short-term rentals and regulating the practice or leaving the county ordinance as is and figuring out how to better enforce it.


"We know there are many folks who are doing it," Cotter said. "We don't go out and look for it. And it's really hard to find it unless we get a complaint."


Even when there is a complaint, Cotter said, sometimes short-term tenants are already gone by the time a zoning officer can visit the site. When a zoning officer does reach the property owner, there is another problem: renters are getting smarter.


Property owners sometimes use excuses that make it hard for zoning officials to take action, such as pretending short-term tenants are family members using the home for the weekend. Proving otherwise isn't always easy to do, Cotter said.


Residents who oppose short-term rentals say people from out of town often fail to follow basic rules, sometimes being too loud or trashing the place.


Those in favor of short-term rentals say the practice could be regulated and bring more revenue to the area, both in taxes and income for local businesses.


County Board Chairwoman Nancy Russell said Thursday the ordinance should be kept as is.


"I don't think we should change an ordinance because it's being violated," Russell said. "Zoning is for the overall public good, and that's what we have to keep mind."


Cotter said he will ask police chiefs for ideas on how to better enforce the zoning ordinance. By the zoning agency's next meeting in June, Cotter also will come up with options on what regulatory steps the agency could take.


A proposal would only affect unincorporated parts of the county. Cities and villages have their own zoning regulations.


The next meeting of the County Zoning Agency is scheduled for Thursday, June 17. A public hearing will only be scheduled if agency members propose a change to county ordinance. In that event, a hearing would be scheduled after the June meeting.



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