Moab has extended its moratorium on new construction for short-term rentals

(Brian Maffly | Tribune file photo) Overwhelmed with tourists — 3 million annually at last count — Moab has passed a land-use code banning construction of new hotels, condos or houses intended for short-term rental. This April 19, 2019, file photo shows part of the tourism promotion efforts that may have been too successful.

Overwhelmed by its popularity as a tourist destination, Moab’s City Council has adopted a new land-use code which blocks construction of new hotels, condos and houses intended for short-term rental such as through Airbnb.

A temporary moratorium on such construction was put into place in February but that was set to expire next month. Instead, the council voted last week to put into place a new code that removes overnight accommodations from all zones. It would require council action to again permit such uses.

The building ban is not intended to be permanent, said City Manager Joel Linares. Over the next six months, staff will come up with recommendations for allowed use of overnight accommodations in different city zones and present their findings to the council. The council will then phase buildings back in as it sees fit, Linares said.

Moab is not alone in its move. At a special meeting on July 18, the Grand County Council approved a countywide ordinance for a land use regulation that prohibits permits for new overnight accommodations for the next six months.

Moab has faced pressure from growing numbers of tourists, three million at last count, amid a housing crisis. Linares told The Tribune in July that the city was engaged in long-term planning for how it can grow as a community in a responsible manner. The pause on new buildings for short-term use is intended to allow the city’s roads and utilities to keep up with its growth.

Although new structures for short-term rental can not be built, existing structures can continue to operate and expand. Anyone who applied for a building permit before the February moratorium was allowed to proceed as usual, said Linares.

When asked what the city would do if an individual were to operate a nightly rental in a building zoned for long-term use, Linares said the city would have to notify them that they are in violation of city codes.

But monitoring and stopping such activity would likely prove difficult.

The explosion of short-term rentals in private residences has become a statewide issue and cities have reacted in different ways in attempting to regulate the practice, often without success. A 2017 state law prohibits local authorities from using online ads as an enforcement tool in the absence of a complaint. This means cities must wait for a neighbor or another individual to speak out before they can go after illegal short-term rentals.

Paul Smith, executive director of the Utah Apartment Association, said his group has seen more and more people interested in short-term rentals, and that he expects the trend to continue even in cities that ban or refuse to license them.

“When cities are unreasonable, it drives people to do it unlicensed, unfortunately," Smith told The Tribune in an earlier interview. "They shouldn’t require such a ridiculous, onerous process that people just throw up their hands and give up.”