Outlaw Airbnbs get a reprieve for at least another year. Robert Gehrke explains why.

An effort to help cities regulate short-term rentals ran into opposition during the Legislature’s general session this year.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Robert Gehrke.

Owners of illegal, short-term rentals — like places rented out for a few nights on Airbnb or VRBO — don’t have to worry about a major crackdown, at least for another year.

I wrote recently how a major piece of affordable housing legislation this year would have removed a provision that ties cities’ hands when it comes to enforcing zoning restrictions or business license requirements.

Many cities already restrict where these short-term rentals can operate or require the owners to have a business license. But in 2017, the Legislature prohibited cities from simply going to a website — say an Airbnb or VRBO site — and finding out if units are operating illegally.

They did it at a time when these short-term rentals were exploding across the state and as a shortage of permanent housing has driven rental prices through the roof, increasing by more than 10% last year alone, according to a study out last week from the Kem Gardner Policy Institute.

This year’s House Bill 462 sought to remove the restriction on cities and let them enforce the ordinances they put in place, maybe alleviating a little of the pressure on the rental market. The Gardner Institute estimates there are about 20,000 dwellings being offered as short-term rentals in the state and the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Steve Waldrip, R-Eden, estimates a third of them are illegal.

If you look at listings in Salt Lake City, where these short-term rentals are only generally prohibited east of State Street and in large portions of Poplar Grove, Glendale and Rose Park, my guess is the percentage operating illegally is much higher.

Predictably, Waldrip caught huge blowback from property owners and property rights groups and agreed to pull the language out of the bill before it passed, provided all parties agree to try to come up with a balanced solution by next year’s general session.

It’s not impossible for the city to enforce. Two weeks ago, a city appeals officer ruled that two short-term rentals in Salt Lake City were operating illegally, but that took a city enforcement official to visit the property, record license plates and interviewing neighbors and guests staying at the property. So, operational, it’s an impractical process.

That’s leading some areas to get more aggressive. Washington County voted last October to ban all non-owner-occupied short-term rentals and to put size restrictions in unincorporated parts of the county.

When we spoke, Waldrip also said he took issue with what I wrote about another part of his bill, provision that would require Summit County to approve a proposal for a mixed-use development near Kimball Junction that would have 1,100 units, as well as a large commercial and retail component.

In December, some 900 residents turned out in person and remotely to oppose the project over concerns about traffic at the congested intersection off of Interstate 80 and the burdens on local services. An opponent of the project, Mitch Solomon, said residents were “blindsided” by the Legislature’s action and County Councilwoman Malena Stevens said “this is not democracy.”

Waldrip said he wishes the language would have been public earlier — it came out on the second-to-last night of the session — but Summit County was consulted about the provision.

“It was done in good faith and it was done with what I think is appropriate input from the stakeholders,” he said. Ultimately, he said, opponents are dead-set against the project and nothing can be done to appease them, but the state needs to solve its housing challenge.