Survey results are in as vacation rental committee charts industry’s future in Cook County
WTIP file photo

Survey results are in as vacation rental committee charts industry’s future in Cook County

When it comes to how people feel about vacation rentals in Cook County, property owners and local residents tend to either love or loathe them, leaving essentially no middle ground for the industry in the eyes of the public.

A recent survey organized by Cook County officials illustrates the reality of these ‘love or hate’ sentiments.

More than 575 people completed the survey about vacation rentals in Cook County. Among them, more than 60 percent of the people who responded said they had either a somewhat unfavorable opinion, or a very unfavorable opinion about vacation rentals in Cook County. Meanwhile, about 34 percent had a favorable impression of short-term rentals.

The results of the survey were discussed, or at least shared publicly, during the first-ever meeting of the recently formed Cook County Vacation Rental Committee Monday, July 18 at the courthouse in Grand Marias.

Tim Nelson is the land services director for Cook County. He spoke on WTIP July 19 about the meeting, the recently completed survey and other topics related to vacation rentals in the community.

“Like many topics of concern within the county, there’s really no two sides of the story. Like I was mentioning last night at the meeting, there’s about 18 sides of the story,” Nelson said.

Nelson said the purpose of the vacation rental committee is not necessarily about trying to bring the opposing viewpoints community members have about vacation rentals to a unified space. Rather, he said, it’s about understanding how local oversight from county government can play a role in keeping the situation sustainable.

“A lot of people have different perspectives. So I wouldn’t necessarily say coming to the middle, because that has a connotation that either you’re dead set against it, or you’re dead set for it,” Nelson said. “It is trying to find that balance of being able to have them function in our county, I think that’s inevitable, but to do it in such a way so that it doesn’t create or perpetuate any adverse impacts on the county but also brings in those kinds of lodging taxes and things like that, that the county does need. We are a destination county.”

As Cook County grapples with a lack of housing, vacation rentals are often referenced as a reason that workers and potential residents struggle to find, or at least afford a place to live. This sentiment is not unique to Cook County.

“It’s not just a Cook County problem; it is statewide, regionwide, nationwide, and even worldwide. There’s a lot of this, it has been a growing issue all over the place,” Nelson said during the WTIP interview. “And we just happen to be on kind of the front lines, because we are a destination community. And you’re right in the fact that we’re not looking to abolish them, we’re just looking to find and strike that balance.”

Meanwhile, other communities across Minnesota and the country are taking aggressive action to limit the vacation rental industry. In nearby Lake County, home to Silver Bay and Two Harbors, the county board recently passed a moratorium restricting any new vacation rentals for at least one year. Officials in Steamboat Springs, Colo., took things a step further, essentially banning vacation rentals in the majority of the popular ski resort town.

In Cook County, oversight of vacation rentals from local government is nothing new. The county passed an ordinance in 2019, modifying it in 2020 and again last year. The original ordinance was passed with a sunset clause, essentially requiring county officials to review and update it by 2023. What this means is that local government has, in fact, been regulating the vacation rental industry in Cook County for nearly three years. Despite this fact, a collection of those responding to the survey said they were completely unfamiliar with any type of local oversight of vacation rentals. Among the responses from the survey are: “Not sure what the requirements are,” “I don’t know enough about regulations,” “Don’t know enough to form an opinion,” and the list goes on.

Nelson says that among those who completed the vacation rental survey, more than 70 percent said they were full-time Cook County residents. The number one topic people who took the survey said they want the local vacation rental committee to discuss is how vacation rentals are impacting long-term rental housing or home ownership options for local residents. Jason Hale is the director of the Cook County Housing Redevelopment Authority. He shared a presentation during the July 18 meeting of the vacation rental committee about the intersection of a lack of housing options in the community and the number of vacation rentals locally. The issue is complex, Hale said, though there is truth to the notion that each home that becomes a vacation rental is in turn one less option for a local resident to live in.

Another issue related to vacation rentals in Cook County is property values. Homes continue to sell quickly in Cook County, with some properties selling within 24 hours of being listed, according to county officials who spoke with WTIP. In addition to being a desirable place to live, some are also looking at real estate in Cook County as an investment, including using the home as a vacation rental. This can lead to bidding wars on local properties, further increasing the price of a home and surrounding homes, in the eyes of the county assessor. For example, the average increase in property value for most Cook County homeowners was 31 percent for taxes payable in 2023, according to county officials.

“We kind of live day to day with that blessing and curse of being in Cook County, where the blessing is, of course, the area around us, the beautiful destination that we that we get to live in every day. And then kind of balanced on the fact that everybody else wants to experience that as well,” Nelson said. “And combine that with the fact that only about 8 percent of the county is privately owned for development really kind of puts that development pressure in tighter, constricted areas which is, I think, part of the problem.”

To read the results of the 2022 Cook County vacation rental survey, click here.

Listen to the audio below to hear the full July 19 interview with Nelson and WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs.