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Jackson officials mull changes to short-term rental policies

A space map of short-term rentals in Jackson
(Screenshot courtesy of AirDNA)
Many of the short-term rentals available in Jackson fall outside the lodging overlays, which doesn't necessarily break town rules. In this map, blue dots represent rooms in hotels or condos, while purple dots represent entire homes.

This story comes to Wyoming Public Radio through a partnership with KHOL/Jackson Hole Community Radio.

There are more than 1,500 short-term rentals in Jackson, Wilson and Teton Village as of April 1, according to the analytics website AirDNA.* That's a 30% increase in just one year, and most of those listings are perfectly legal.

Tyler Sinclair is the community development director for the Town of Jackson. He said the majority of properties listed on sites like Airbnb and Vrbo are located where they're supposed to be: in zones specifically designated as tourist areas.

"We're trying to create a visitor experience inside what we call our lodging overlay and focus on tourists and amenities and the ability to walk and enjoy our town," he said.

In Jackson, the overlays include the immediate areas surrounding the Town Square and Snow King Resort. But if you log onto Airbnb and look for availability this summer, plenty of the listings are outside those zones. Understandably, Sinclair said he gets a lot of complaints from neighbors about situations like this.

"Most times, the calls are maybe misunderstanding what is currently allowed and not allowed, and thinking that something illegal is going on when it may not be," he said.

Jackson’s short-term lodging overlays try to concentrate most rental properties within certain tourist-centric zones. But homeowners located elsewhere are still allowed to rent their properties up to 12 times a year.
Screenshot courtesy of the Town of Jackson
Jackson’s short-term lodging overlays try to concentrate most rental properties within certain tourist-centric zones. But homeowners located elsewhere are still allowed to rent their properties up to 12 times a year.

That's because there's an exception to the overlays. Any homeowner in Jackson is allowed to rent their property, no matter where it's located, up to 12 times a year. But there's a catch: It can only be rented once within a 30-day period and isn't supposed to be occupied by anyone else after that. This is the rule sometimes described as a "30-day minimum." However, that might be changing this summer.

Town staff proposed changing regulations so that properties outside of the overlays could only be rented once in 90 days instead of 30 during a public meeting on April 20. The change would mean a homeowner in East Jackson, for example, could only list their place on Vrbo four times a year instead of 12. Sinclair said the goal is to try and dampen the short-term market in neighborhoods, preserving areas as working-class where that distinction is fast eroding.

"That's just a changing circumstance for a variety of different reasons," Sinclair said. "So, I think it's important to check back in on that and consider moving it to 90, which is what I've recommended to address some of those instances of how residential properties are being rented."

As with most housing-related proposals in Jackson, the recommendation is leading to a lot of passionate comments both in favor of and against the move. Some property managers aren't exactly supportive, arguing it makes it more difficult to earn money because they wouldn't be able to rent to visitors as often. Morgan Bruemmer works for the Clear Creek Group, a short-term rental agency in town.

"We are collaborative. We live here. We're vested. We're not cold-hearted. We're not the big bad monsters that we're made out to be in the social media," Bruemmer said, "and we want to be a part of that solution."

Several homeowners also said their location doesn't compute with leasing to the local workforce, and that the proposed shift would neither change their calculations or add more affordable housing in town. A change like this, they argue, would only uproot their retirement plans while providing little public benefit.

"It seems like you're penalizing us. We don't break the rules. We contribute to the economy," one commenter said.

"We ski. We hire local guides. We shop in the stores. We rent snowmobiles. We go to the hot spring," said another property owner named Jill Davies. "We are out and active in the community and participating and supporting with local employment."

A total of 15 people spoke against the proposal at the initial meeting. Joseph Pack spends summers and winters in Jackson and fell in love with it here when he first started visiting. He said he thinks a lot of folks search for homes like his because hotels are too expensive, and that further limiting rental owners would just increase lodging prices in town.

"We effectively try to rent out the house to recoup as much of our $12,000 a month mortgage payment as we can for the other months that we are not in town," Pack said.

Another nine people, many of whom are local workers, spoke up in favor of the policy shift. Ariel Kazunas is a renter who said she's moved six times in the past eight years.

"I recognize that some of the speakers tonight have talked about how they impact this economy. They go shopping. They bring folks here to go snowmobiling," she said. "That feels a bit trivial in the face of the houselessness that a lot of us are struggling with."

 A disclaimer on a local Airbnb rental listed for the week of July 4, 2022. It reads "Since this past August we have worked out with the Town of Jackson what is legal as far as AirBnb is concerned and now only rent our house once every 30 days, so your stay here is completely legal."
Screenshot courtesy of Airbnb
A disclaimer on a local Airbnb rental listed for the week of July 4, 2022.

Town officials admit that their recommendation is a minor update that will likely have minimal impact on the housing crisis, but they also said it could make some difference in preserving existing areas.

"We don't know any of our neighbors. We don't see the same cars in the parking lot. We have car alarms going off, rental car alarms going off at all hours of the night. I can hear suitcases rattling across the parking lot," said local resident Ash Hermanowski, speaking in favor of the proposal. "I don't have a community and I don't have a neighborhood."

There have also been more than 50 complaints made and 123 documented citations for illegal Airbnbs in the past five years. So, part of the town staff's argument for changing the rule is to help give the one local code enforcement officer the time to make sure everyone is following the law.

"I feel that this is not a matter of violations or creating workforce housing. It's a matter of keeping short-term rentals in the short-term zones where they belong," said local realtor and candidate for Jackson Town Council Devon Viehman.

An Airbnb map of available rentals.
Screenshot courtesy of Airbnb
Currently available Airbnbs for the week of July 4, 2022. Many properties are hotel rooms and condos located within the lodging overlays, while a few are not.

For other housing advocates, the debate is all about what the Jackson Hole community values.

"One thing I want to kind of lean into is, 'This isn't an emotional thing,' is what somebody said. But it inherently is because it's about empathy, and empathy for our community members. And empathy for our true neighbors," said Whitney Oppenhuizen, a board member for the advocacy organization Shelter JH. "Not the family that's here for three months a year or for a month and a half on a ski vacation or a summer break."

The Town Planning Commission will continue this conversation in mid-May, while the town council will take it up in June. In the meantime, public comments on the proposed rule change are still being accepted.

*AirDNA splits Jackson, Wilson and Teton Village into three distinct locations. The data used in this story combines those numbers.

Will Walkey is a contributing journalist and former reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. Through 2023, Will was WPR's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. He first arrived in Wyoming in 2020, where he covered Teton County for KHOL 89.1 FM in Jackson. His work has aired on NPR and numerous member stations throughout the Rockies, and his story on elk feedgrounds in Western Wyoming won a regional Murrow award in 2021.
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