Resident with short term rental concerns gets personal meeting with mayor and city staff members

Just wondering how many residents in Minnetrista have called the city to complain about their neighbor and had the mayor and several staff members show up to help.

Minnetrista July 15 council meeting
City Administrator announces staff meeting with resident

The city passed an ordinance last year banning short term rentals of less than 30 days duration anywhere in the city. So far there have been no citations for violating the ordinance, however a resident has been complaining about the rental property next door which, so far, appears to be complying with the ordinance.

The mayor and several staff members scheduled a meeting this week with the resident to discuss his “concerns about what’s going on at the home next to him.”

Now that’s what I call service.

Related story: Minnetrista considers short term rental ban


May 23, 2018

Very disappointed in the decision Monday night to ban all short term rentals without an exclusion for owner occupied properties or a grandfathering provision for existing vacation rental properties. It is sad we’ve let some very vocal residents trample on the property rights of our entire community. We could have kept new vacation rental properties out of Minnetrista residential areas while protecting those in our community that have been operating responsibly in the past.

Short Term Rentals May 21, 2018

I’m hoping reason and common sense will prevail this evening and the council will realize that everyone has property rights, not just the loud and vocal. The easy, politically expedient path to take on short term rentals is to just ban them without considering future litigation, the hardship caused to responsible owners that have earned a livelihood from their businesses and who will have their investments destroyed by a piece of irresponsible legislation. Let’s address this issue responsibly and comply with Minnesota state law that protects property owners from having the rules changed to deny previously allowed uses. It’s the right thing to do.

We can find a way to prevent future properties intended solely as vacation rentals from locating in Minnetrista’s residential areas without trampling on the property rights of responsible people.

May 17, 2018

MINNETRISTA PROPERTY RIGHTS ARE BEING TARGETED and homeowners that have been able for decades to rent out their homes as vacation rentals will no longer be able to do so if a proposed ordinance passes next week. Despite the fact there are no specific complaints on record relative to any short-term rental usage of any kind on any properties within Minnetrista, the city council seems poised to ban short term rentals of less than 30 days. People that invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to purchase a house as a vacation rental business and have been responsible property owners for decades will have their businesses taken away by the city. So far there appears to be no inclination to grandfather these soon to be non-conforming properties as Minnesota state law requires (Minn. Stat. Section 462.357, subd. 1e).

What the city has done in the proposed ordinance is declared all short term rentals a public nuisance (which clearly they all are not as most have been operating responsibly for decades). In Minnesota, state law requires a standard of proof that a city must meet before declaring something a public nuisance, otherwise a local government could just arbitrarily declare anything they wanted to control, or get rid of, a nuisance (lawn mowers, dogs, etc.). That standard requires proof of a number of separate behavioral incidents committed within the previous 12 months. This standard has not been met by the city of Minnetrista and leaves the city wide open for litigation if it chooses not to grandfather these non-conforming properties and to make provisions for them in this ordinance.

The city council is unanimous in the desire to prevent future properties from being purchased in Minnetrista solely as vacation rentals in residentially zoned neighborhoods. There are constitutional issues involved, however, that need to be addressed in this ordinance to avoid taxpayer dollars from being needlessly spent on future litigation that could’ve been foreseen.

May 8, 2018

Property rights in Minnetrista are being threatened by a proposed ban on the long established, legitimate use of property to generate income for homeowners. Short term rentals (STRs) have been in the news a lot recently with the popularity of VRBO, Airbnb and other sites that make it easy for homeowners to manage renting their properties. Several homes have been purchased in Minnetrista solely for that purpose where the owner resides elsewhere. There are state laws that protect homeowners from local governments changing the rules and leaving them high and dry without grandfathering what was previously a legitimate use, but cities can circumvent those state laws by declaring something a public nuisance and that appears to be the route Minnetrista is taking. Obviously not all short term rentals are a public nuisance or the city would be overrun with complaints and so far they don’t have any documented complaints due to short term rental usage on any properties within the city. I guess the city thinks by simply announcing STRs are public nuisances it makes it so?

The only good thing that came from last night’s council meeting on the subject was an agreement to carve out some kind of exemption for people that actually live in their home. Staff seemed rather confused about what that should look like though. Should it exempt them entirely? Should the frequency be limited? Should certain activities be banned? The Mayor read off a list of things she suggested should be prohibited including dogs, wedding parties, parties of more than 6 people, parking on city streets, etc., etc… I don’t know how staff can possibly bring back a solid, enforceable ordinance when we don’t even understand the problem yet. Understanding just doesn’t appear to be a priority…

May 4, 2018

Some additional thoughts on short-term rentals. Whatever problem a city is dealing with, imposing a complete and total ban should always be a last resort, an extreme measure when no other alternatives are possible. Short-term rentals are and have been a long-established, legitimate activity of responsible homeowners serving a purpose to provide them extra income. I believe there is a constitutional issue here that the city leaves itself vulnerable to litigation over if it decides to ban short-term rentals.

Banning these rentals for homesteaded properties may seem good in the abstract but there are unquestionably unintentional consequences that will prove it problematic in practice. There are less extreme approaches other cities have taken to deal with this issue and I think they are worth exploring.

Simply registering these properties, requiring a small registration fee (large fees have been shown to discourage registration), and then having property owners put up a bond that neighbors can make a claim against if an ordinance is violated, could be a less extreme option. The next step up would be requiring a permit or license with specific regulations governing the activity. The last, and most extreme measure would be a complete ban.

I think the council needs to consider the implications, intended and unintended, of any measure we adopt, preferably before its adopted.

April 30, 2018

On May 7 Minnetrista’s city council is considering an ordinance to ban short-term rentals (defined as less than 30 days). There are two sides on this issue, residents who want the ban because of unruly renters and residents that don’t because they rent out their homes. I’ve been getting emails for several weeks from both sides, have talked with many of them and honestly sympathize with them all. I believe residents that manage their properties responsibly and are considerate of their neighbors in making sure renters are properly vetted should be allowed to continue renting their properties. I also believe that irresponsible property owners that use irresponsible vacation rental companies and continually cause problems for neighbors should be fined and after a warning should not be allowed to do it anymore.

What is the magnitude of the problem in Minnetrista and what should the remedy be? The remedy, obviously, should be relative to the magnitude of the problem but the city doesn’t know how big the problem is because we haven’t been tracking it. I asked the city to tell me how many citations have been issued over the last three years relative to short term rental properties and the answer was, basically, they don’t know. I asked how many complaints have been called in to the city over the last three years due to short-term rentals and the answer was they really couldn’t say since it’s difficult to know whether or not calls to a specific property were related to the short-term rental usage (i.e., they don’t keep track of that information). Are these complaints coming from one or two properties? Five? Twenty? We don’t know because we haven’t been keeping track.

I know people want this issue dealt with quickly but a hasty decision to impose a ban is likely to harm responsible property owners that are good neighbors and rely on rental income to make ends meet. My guess is most wealthy people don’t rent their homes. Those not so well off, however, may depend on that income for their very survival. I think we owe it to them to at least take the time to measure the scale of this problem so we can arrive at a measured, appropriate response to it.

I believe it would be appropriate to spend the next year tracking Minnetrista short-term rental properties by identifying them on the top vacation rental sites, and tracking complaints about noise, drugs, assaults, even parking violations associated with these properties. If we find it’s a wide-spread problem on a large number of properties we can remedy it accordingly with either a ban or requiring a license and enforcing new regulations. If we find a small handful of properties are the problem I think we need to issue citations and fines for the behavior, not only to perpetrators/renters but property owners as well.

The council is not there simply to react to large volumes of emotional emails. It is there to carefully weigh and determine the facts, possible courses of action, and then consider the impact of those actions on the entire community. We need more facts before we can do that. Until we can measure the problem we can’t provide an effective solution to it. It may take a year to gather the needed information but whatever solution we arrive at will be a responsible, well thought out one rather than an emotional one. I hope Minnetrista residents will support finding the best solution rather than a quick one.

February 21, 2018

City of Minnetrista refutes economic principles of marketplace competition:

IT’S CLEAR FROM OUR MEETING LAST NIGHT THAT CITY COUNCIL HAS NO INTEREST IN SEEKING COMPETITIVE RATES WHEN IT COMES TO PROFESSIONAL SERVICES CONTRACTS for engineering services. One council member actually stated she didn’t think it was necessary to do anything that the League of MN Cities didn’t require the city to do. I wonder if she knows the League of MN Cities has no jurisdiction whatsoever over Minnesota cities and never has. The state doesn’t require cities to competitively bid professional services contracts but many cities choose to because they know that without competition prices go up. Minnetrista is sending a message, loud and clear, to constituents that its allegiance is not to taxpayers but to special vendor relationships.

Arguments against seeking competitive bids last night ranged from (and I’m paraphrasing since the video isn’t accessible yet) “We don’t want to lose the knowledge and history we’ve had with our current firm” to “Request for Proposals (RFPs) are expensive and don’t facilitate competition.” My response was we don’t necessarily need to lose the knowledge and history with our present firm. If they want to respond to an RFP with competitive rates we can choose to keep them. RFPs are not that expensive, especially when you consider the likelihood of getting more competitive rates as a result.

Minnetrista hasn’t competitively bid their professional engineering services contract for over 13 years. Is it any wonder our current engineering contract allows them to charge the city $90/hr for general clerical work?

Evidently in 2016 the city council then was concerned with this same issue and asked staff to research other engineering firms and their rates. What was shown to us last night was a 2016 matrix of 3 firms and their ranges of rates for work performed by different positions within each firm. Some of these rate ranges varied by close to 90% between the top and bottom part of a given range. It was evident, to me at least, that given the wide range of prices at which a particular position could be billed out, that it would be impossible to accurately compare these firms by looking at ranges of rates in this manner. This was simply a futile exercise designed to put off the matter without issuing an RFP.

I had hoped that the special presentation last night titled “Professional Services DISCUSSION” would actually be a discussion about the merits of competition in the marketplace, how seeking competitive rates could benefit our community and lower our rising infrastructure costs. What we got was a one-way presentation by the City Administrator giving reasons we shouldn’t issue an RFP. When I asked a question during his presentation I was told by the Mayor to write down all my questions and wait until the end to ask them. Clearly we have different ideas of what a “discussion” is.

Also at last night’s meeting:

COUNCIL MADE A DECISION AT THEIR WORK SESSION TO PROHIBIT SHORT TERM RENTALS in residential areas, defining “short term” as less than 30 days. The number of residents concerned about this issue has been growing in the community. Staff will seek input from the Planning Commission before holding a public hearing on the issue and will then submit an ordinance for council’s approval at a future meeting.