Avalara MyLodgeTax > Blog > State and Local News > Washington County, Utah, bans unhosted short-term rentals

Washington County, Utah, bans unhosted short-term rentals

  • Oct 19, 2021 | Jennifer Sokolowsky

St. George, Utah

Leaders in Washington County, Utah, have approved stricter rules for short-term rentals in unincorporated parts of the county, including a ban on vacation rental properties that are not occupied by their owners.

“People who are on site take better care the property, and make sure we don’t have 60 people in there or have a tour bus taking up space or have a party going on all night,” said Commissioner Victor Iverson.

The amendment to the county’s short-term rental law also places limits on the size of vacation rental properties according to a property’s zoning:

  • For lots of 20,000 square feet or less and smaller forest residential zones, the maximum short-term rental property size is 1,500 square feet
  • For residentially zoned properties on more than an acre of land, a short-term rental property may go up to 2,500 square feet
  • For properties on lots of five acres or more, the maximum size is 3,500 square feet 

Under the new regulations, vacation rental guests are not allowed to park on the street. Each short-term rental property must have a paved or graveled parking space for each bedroom.

Existing licensed short-term rentals will be able to continue operating even if they don’t meet the new standards.

The changes are driven by resident complaints about neighborhood disruptions from vacation rental properties that host dozens of guests, as well as concerns about the supply of affordable rental housing for local residents. According to Washington County Community Development Director Scott Messel, statistics show that every 10% increase in short-term rental properties in a local area leads to a 42% rise in rental prices. 

In May, county commissioners issued a six-month moratorium on issuing new business licenses for short-term rentals while they studied the issue.

While the county planning commission recommended allowing non-owner-occupied vacation rentals and more generous size limits, the county commission adopted more stringent regulations, explaining that the vacation rental industry had expanded too quickly, to the detriment of full-time residents. The county draws tourists to destinations such as Zion National Park.

Under Utah state law, local governments are not allowed to stop short-term rental operators from listing properties on short-term rental websites such as Airbnb and Vrbo and cannot use these sites to find and prosecute unlicensed short-term rentals. That means regulators must rely on complaints from residents to locate illegal vacation rental properties.

The Washington County Commission has approved a feasibility study on the impact of short-term rentals.

“What we would like is to study the cost to the county of allowing unhosted short-term rentals and whether or not they cause more burdens on enforcement, community development … and consider whether or not we’d assess a fee in order to compensate the county for how much more it costs for enforcement, things like that,” Victoria Hales, assistant Washington County Attorney, said.

The study could result in more changes to the current law once it’s finished over the next several months. The commission could also consider designating specific zones for short-term rentals in the future.

Cities within the county, such as St. George and Washington, have taken this approach, with special overlays allowing short-term rentals and areas set aside for them. Both cities require short-term rentals to be licensed, and St. George requires operators who live outside of Washington County to designate a local agent/property manager. In Hurricane, vacation rental operators must obtain a city-issued short-term rental license, vacation rentals must be at least 300 feet away from each other, and the number of vacation rentals in single-family zones of the city are limited to three licenses for every 1,000 residents.

According to the county, there are more than 5,500 vacation rental properties that fit the criteria to obtain a license throughout the county. However, many more may be operating without a license. Most short-term rentals in the county are located in cities, with about 60 operating in the unincorporated parts of the county. Approximately half of vacation rental operations in unincorporated Washington County are licensed.

Currently, Washington County requires short-term rentals to have a county business license. Utah short-term rental hosts are also required to register with the Utah State Tax Commission and receive a state tax ID number in order to collect lodging taxes from guests.

Vacation rental marketplaces Airbnb and Vrbo collect state combined sales tax, state transient room tax, and county transient room tax on behalf of their Washington County hosts. Hosts are responsible for collecting any taxes that are not collected for them by short-term rental marketplaces.

MyLodgeTax can automate and simplify short-term rental tax compliance, including registration and filing with state and local tax authorities. For more on short-term rental taxes in Utah, see our state Vacation Rental Tax Guide. If you have tax questions related to vacation rental properties, drop us a line and we’ll get back to you with answers.

Lodging tax rates, rules, and regulations change frequently. Although we hope you'll find this information helpful, this blog is for informational purposes only and does not provide legal or tax advice.
Avalara Author
Jennifer Sokolowsky
Avalara Author Jennifer Sokolowsky
Jennifer Sokolowsky writes about tax, legal, and tech topics. She has an extensive international background in journalism and marketing, including work with The Seattle Times, The Prague Post, Avvo, and Marriott.

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