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Vacation rental properties problems for neighbors

Chris Pence, Land Services supervisor for the county, after the meeting said the county has about two complaints a month on vacation rentals. Brainerd Dispatch file photo

Renting a private lake home for a vacation getaway or family reunion has been a trend that has been gaining popularity.

If a person searches "Vacation Rental By Owner" or VRBO for short on the Internet, they'll find more than 1,300 rental properties in Minnesota, plus 34 rentals alone on Gull Lake in Brainerd.

Particular concerns on a vacation rental property on Lake Hubert, located north of Baxter and south of Nisswa, were raised Tuesday by members of the Lake Hubert Conservation Association (LHCA) to the Crow Wing County Board.

VRBOs were not on the county board agenda. However, lake association members spoke to the commissioners during the open forum period, where citizens have five minutes or less to bring up a topic. No action is generally taken during the open forum.

Dennis Tack, a LHCA board member, said association members are concerned about a property on Lake Hubert Drive where the owner, who is part of an investment company, is renting it out as a summer rental home. He said the rental property is being advertised as a seven bedroom home with space for 26 people.

"There have been all sorts of problems," said Tack, who said the property has been rented out for weddings, receptions, bachelor parties, family reunions and other oversized groups. "There are intoxicated guests, garbage on the streets, watercraft violations, smell of overflowing sewers and we are suffering from a loss of sleep and decrease in property values. The police have been called. We had three calls to officials on one night alone.

"This is an issue facing Crow Wing County. There has been an explosion of houses used for rentals. It will only get worse."

Tack told commissioners that other municipalities have dealt with the vacation rental properties and the association would like the county to do the same.

"I made by first trip in 1948 to Nisswa," said Tack. "It has been a life-long dream of mine to own a house on Lake Hubert. I feel fortunate everyday to live here."

Patricia Prior Lamon of Golden Valley said she traveled up to Brainerd Tuesday to state her concerns about the vacation rental property. She owns a cabin on Gladstone Lake, which is directly across the road from the rental property.

Lamon said the people who rent the property have left garbage all over the street and there are multiple vehicles parked on the road that cause public safety concerns to walkers and bikers. Lamon was concerned with the septic system's ability to handle the large crowds, as Lake Hubert, Little Hubert, Gladstone and Clark Lake are all interconnected.

Mark Liedl, Land Services director, said, "This is a complex issue that implicates property rights on both sides of the equation. And from a regulatory standpoint there is no simple solution."

Liedl said the county ordinance does not regulate VRBO and learned that few local governments in the state regulate them.

The Minnesota Department of Health regulates VRBOs as lodging establishments, and Liedl said the county has forwarded the complaints the citizens have with the property.

"The issue requires more research and analysis," said Liedl. "Simply slapping another regulation on the books and claiming that we've solved the problem is not the answer. It makes no sense to put a regulation in place that is not reasonable nor enforceable."

County Commissioner Paul Thiede said this issue has been around for a long time and has been looked at. Thiede agreed that there is not an easy answer and the topic needs to be researched. Thiede said the open forum period is not a place for the discussion.

County Chairwoman Rosemary Franzen asked the land department to research the issue and to report back to the county's Committee of the Whole this fall.

Chris Pence, Land Services supervisor for the county, after the meeting said the county has about two complaints a month on vacation rentals. The county heard about the Lake Hubert rental last summer.

Pence said the county has been out at the rental site and the septic system was not overflowing. If the septic system is overflowing, Pence asks that residents call the county immediately so staff can go out and inspect it. If the septic system is in fact overflowing, the county has the right to shut the rental down.

Pence said the septic system is compliant for the four bedroom home. He said the rental is advertised as a seven bedroom, but the home is classified as a four-bedroom home.

Pence said that Stearns, Mille Lacs and Aitkin counties issue VRBOs and Stearns County has issued 10 permits since 2008 He said the county will gather data from those counties to see what has and what has not worked.

"We want to make sure everyone is treated the same way," said Pence. "We need the right ordinance and one that will be enforced fairly."

Bob Kvam of Pequot Lakes told commissioners he has the same issue with a vacation rental on the Whitefish Chain of Lakes.

Kvam was the first person to speak on the issue during open forum. After he spoke, Commissioner Paul Koering said he was opposed to it.

"People buy and pay a lot on their property taxes," said Koering. "And now you are trying to control it more. Taking away property rights is wrong.

"I get it, it's very scary when government knocks on your door ... More government regulation is not the answer."

In other county business,

Approved the direct sale of a non-conforming tax forfeited tract to an adjoining property landowner in Breezy Point.

Approved three private ingress/egress easements. Two were in Crow Wing Township and one in Ross Lake Township.