The costly licensing fee for short-term rental properties in Walworth County could fall by $300 next year under a zoning department proposal prompted by good compliance from homeowners and other cost savings, an official says.
After a change in state law, the Walworth County Board approved sweeping new short-term rental ordinances in April that established the $904 annual licensing fee.
That fee was met with considerable hostility from local renters and real estate representatives, who said it was exorbitant.
But the Walworth County Land Use and Resource Management Department says the fee could drop to $600 next year—with a $300 annual renewal fee—thanks to an increase in issued licenses and cost-cutting in the department.
The finance committee will vote on the fee change in January. The full county board will consider it in February.
Under the proposal, renters who paid the $904 fee this year would be reimbursed the $300 difference next year or apply it to their renewal fees, said Shannon Haydin, deputy director of the land use and resource management department.
The county has issued 67 short-term rental licenses since the ordinances took effect. That is up from eight licenses issued and 28 submitted applications in July. Haydin said Walworth County has 160 to 170 short-term rental units.
Hayden said county officials have focused on code compliance for short-term rentals rather than code enforcement. The department mailed letters to non-licensed renters and deployed a part-time code enforcement officer to knock on doors in an attempt to generate more licenses.
The department has not issued any tickets for noncompliance since the ordinances were implemented, Haydin said.
“As summer went on, I think it became more difficult to ignore the need to be licensed,” she said Wednesday. “I think people are getting the message, and I think there’s some self-policing among people who are already licensed.”
The county also opted to hire a part-time code enforcement officer rather than a full-time officer, which had been proposed. That gave the county two part-time officers and ultimately saved money, Haydin said.
In a November memo, Haydin wrote that the county had collected $51,528 in fees and spent $31,765 on staffing and running the program. The actual cost per license was $618, Haydin wrote, and enforcement made up the bulk of expenses.
Last week, the county zoning agency held a public hearing on the fee change and a proposal to simplify the ordinance language, which the county board will vote on Jan. 8.
The proposal will change the wording to read that an individual renting for fewer than 29 consecutive days must obtain a license. The ordinance still requires short-term rentals to operate no less than seven days and no more than 29 days at a time.
Doug Wheaton, a governmental affairs director for the Lakes Area Realtors Association and a vocal critic of the $904 fee, supported the ordinance language change at the public hearing.
He praised the county for considering the reduced fee.
“We do sincerely appreciate the proposed fee change,” Wheaton told the zoning agency. “However, it appears under this proposal that Walworth County would still have the highest county home-rental license fee in the state, as the next highest such fee that we are aware of is the $535 fee charged by Dane County for the first year.”
This story was changed Dec. 28, 2018, to reflect the following correction:
A story on Page 3A on Thursday mischaracterized the proposed langue change to short-term rental rules in Walworth County. The proposal by the county's Land Use and Resource Management Department changes the wording to read that an individual renting for fewer than 29 consecutive days must obtain a license.