The Good Neighbors Association is a collaborative association of homeowners, property management companies, and local business owners dedicated to the responsible hosting, management and governance of short-term vacation rentals in Walworth County.
The Good Neighbors Association’s mission is to work with property owners, community residents, local businesses and elected officials to ensure there are responsible guidelines in place that: a) preserve the rights of homeowners to rent their properties to responsible renters seeking short-term vacation opportunities; b) recognize our responsibility to respect neighbors’ right to quiet enjoyment of their home and neighborhood; and c) sustain the economic benefits that accrue to homeowners, local businesses and local governments from short-term vacation rentals.
Short-term vacation rentals have been part of the cultural and economic fabric of Walworth County and Wisconsin for generations. The Good Neighbors Association wants to preserve that culture and the economic benefits it generates. To these ends we will work with neighbors, local civic and business leaders and local elected officials to achieve an environment in which vacation rental properties and their guests can coexist appropriately in Walworth County’s neighborhoods and surrounding communities.
The Good Neighbors Association has done a good deal of research on the question of short-term vacation rentals, particularly as the issues relate to activity in Walworth County. We encourage you to take a look at what we’ve found by scrolling down and clicking on any or all of the research links identified below.
BACKGROUND: WHY THE WALWORTH COUNTY BOARD IS STUDYING SHORT-TERM RENTAL ISSUES
In the Fall and early Winter of 2014 the Walworth County Board (Board) of Supervisor’s considered an amendment intended to clarify language in the ordinance covering vacation home rentals.
The amendment was prompted by a recent court decision that found language in the existing ordinance too vague. Residents opposed to short-term vacation rentals called for language that would prohibit rentals of less than 30 days. Those affected by the ordinance urged the Board to consider the important property rights and economic issues that could be adversely affected by the proposed language.
As the deliberations unfolded in both the County Zoning Committee and the Board, Supervisors gradually appeared to have concluded that there were two issues on the table. The first was what some members perceived as a need created by the recent court decision to clarify the language in the existing ordinance. The second was perceived as a need to address the larger issue of whether or not Walworth County should permit short-term rentals and if so what regulatory requirements might be advisable to address neighbor concerns.
In December 2014, the Board decided to deal with the first issue - i.e., clarification of the existing ordinance – passed an amendment prohibiting rentals of less than 30 days. Now, the County Board and the County Zoning Committee will address the more complex and far reaching underlying issue of whether or not Walworth County should permit short-term rentals and if so what regulatory requirements might be advisable to address neighbor concerns.
The Walworth County Good Neighbors Association is working to assist the County Zoning Committee, other Board members and the citizens of Walworth County as they explore the important questions that must be addressed in this process.
MAJOR ISSUES: WHAT ARE THE MAJOR ISSUES RELATED TO SHORT-TERM VACATION RENTALS?
Four specific issues surfaced during the recent Walworth County Board deliberations, including:
HOMEOWNER PROPERTY RIGHTS
More than 300 Walworth County homeowners rent their homes out to short-term vacation renters. They do so for a variety of reasons, but foremost among those reasons is economic necessity – i.e., the need to pay the mortgages, cover the property taxes, help pay the bills and fund their retirement.
Nearly all homeowners understandably believe that as long as they are not hurting or endangering others or violating environmental laws they should be able to do what they want to with their own property.
Walworth County Good Neighbors Association Position on this issue: Our members believe that property owners’ rights must be respected; that short-term rentals should be allowed; and that arbitrary time limitations should not be used to effectively stop homeowners from exercising their rights.
For every one of the 300+ homeowners who rent their homes out to short-term rentals, there could be as many as two to six neighbors who might be affected by the behavior of the renters; so somewhere between 600 and 1,800 Walworth County residents could have standing as neighbors.
While it is clear that some neighbors have been inconvenienced and that more needs to be done to address their problems, a review of public complain and enforcement records clearly indicates that short-term vacation rentals are not a major problem in Walworth County. Specifically, for example, in the past 3 years (2012, 2013, & 2014), Walworth County Sheriff’s Office records that action was requested/required at only five properties (4 in the Town of Delavan and 1 in the Town of Geneva).
Walworth County Good Neighbors Association Position: Our members believe that our neighbors should not be put at risk or inconvenienced by inappropriate behavior. We believe that effective regulation rather than prohibition is the right approach.
Economic impact of short-term vacation rentals estimates that the average daily spending of renters generates more than $17 million dollars a year in local spending in Walworth County. That level of spending would obviously support a lot of local jobs and also generate more than $600,000 in room tax revenues and about $86,000 in sales tax revenues to the County.
Walworth County Good Neighbors Association Position: Our members believe that all contributions to the local economy are important and do not believe that sufficient justification has been presented for putting needed public and private revenues at risk.
THE RENTERS: WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT SHORT-TERM VACATION RENTERS
The recent professional public opinion survey of Wisconsin consumers indicates that nearly one in four (24%) Wisconsin adults prefers to rent a home, cabin or cottage when they vacation. That population of short-term renters tends to be older (76% are 35 or older) and financially stable (52% report household incomes in excess of $50,000 and more than 80% of them own their own homes). They are also more likely to have families.
This profile of an older, stable population underscores the fact that over the past three years – a time period in which more than 300 properties were rented for a combined total of more than 85,000 days – there were only handful of complaints and those were centered on only five properties.
GOOD NEIGHBORS COMMITMENT: WHAT WE PROPOSE
The Walworth County Good Neighbor Association (WCGNA) believes it is important and possible to work with elected officials and regulators to identify reasonable, enforceable regulations that ensure the safety of our neighborhoods and protect our local quality of life. We also believe that, working with our neighbors, we can develop and promote policies that hold homeowners and renters responsible and accountable to each other, to neighbors, and to neighborhoods.To read more about how we propose to develop reasonable and enforceable regulations and a Good Neighbor “Code of Conduct”,
Developing a Reasonable & Enforceable Regulatory Framework
The Good Neighbors Association has reviewed regulations across the country where Short Term Rentals are working well for homeowners, neighbors, neighborhoods and communities as a whole. Some of the best practices that we believe could work well for Walworth County include:
Requiring a homeowner to obtain a Short Term Rental (STR) Operating License. In Austin, Texas the STR operating license includes a fee paid to the local municipality, a fee to notify nearby property owners of the license, proof of property insurance, proof of payment of hotel occupancy tax, and a certified inspection. The license needs to be renewed on an annual basis. Homeowners who fail to obtain a license face enforcement actions including citations. Palm Desert, California, fines homeowners up to $5,000 for operating without a permit or failing to collect their Transient Occupancy Tax.
The WCGNA supports consideration of the views and concerns of neighbors of private home rentals in determining what regulations may be reasonable and appropriate.
Developing a Good Neighbor ‘Code of Conduct’ for Short Term Rental Homeowners & Renters
Private home STR property owners and tenants must be responsible and accountable to each other, to neighbors, and to neighborhoods. Tenants should receive a “Code of Conduct” or other guide notifying them of noise, parking, and/or other ordinances or restrictions they will be expected and required to follow. Some of the best practices for a Good Neighbor Code of Conduct that we believe could work well for Walworth County include:
All neighbors of rental property will be provided with contact information in the event of guest disturbance or emergency.
As an interested party, it is essential that you stay actively and publicly involved. Attending meetings and speaking with your local elected official will help reinforce our position and message. We will update this page with important information about meetings and contact information in order to help you stay in touch and involved.