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Duluth places moratorium on vacation rental permits

The Duluth City Council unanimously voted to temporarily put the brakes on the issuance of permits for vacation rental properties Monday. Tim Allen, president of Historic Bed & Breakfast Inns of Duluth, urged councilors to step up regulation ...

The Duluth City Council unanimously voted to temporarily put the brakes on the issuance of permits for vacation rental properties Monday.

Tim Allen, president of Historic Bed & Breakfast Inns of Duluth, urged councilors to step up regulation of the properties which are increasingly being marketed on websites such as Airbnb and VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner).

He called on the city to hold these businesses to the same kinds of health and public safety standards as others in the hospitality industry "so everyone who visits the city of Duluth has a safe and fun experience."

Allen noted that many of these operations operate under the radar and fail to collect the taxes that other businesses are required to charge.

"It hurts those of us who are playing by the rules," he said.

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Councilor Joel Sipress, who was one of the authors of a resolution that would place a moratorium on vacation rental ordinances for up to one year, said: "I view this as a temporary pause, so we can come up with something that makes sense for the city of Duluth."

Duluth is not alone, according to Sipress.

"We've seen an explosion of this industry. Cities all over the country are grappling with this issue," he said.

Councilor Sharla Gardner said the city will need help regulating vacation rentals.

"There's no way the city is ever going to know about all the illegal rentals," she said.

Gardner called for shared vigilance in identifying those active in the market.

"We need neighbors and the community to come forward," she said.

Left unchecked, Gardner warned the proliferation of vacation rental properties could have unintended consequences.

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"If you have too many short-term rentals in a neighborhood, you no longer have a neighborhood," she said.

Councilor Barb Russ, the third author of the ordinance, concurred, saying: "I have serious concerns about neighborhoods being taken over by this."

But Russ said the city will need to think hard about how to tackle the issue.

"It's not going to be an easy job," she conceded.

Cameron Fryer, a concerned Duluth resident who has battled to keep a vacation rental property out of his neighborhood, said the council will face a challenge in determining how to police the industry.

"How do you penalize people who don't play by the rules?" he asked, suggesting that maybe water service could be discontinued to properties that flout local regulation.

Although the city council passed the moratorium Monday, it will not go into effect for another 30 days.

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