In tension over vacation rentals, whose enjoyment matters most?

When I was a kid, we had a trailer on the north shore of Massachusetts. Most of the cottages nearby were rentals and I’m guessing there wasn’t much oversight of who was renting.

It was a beach town in the early ’60s, transitioning from the shoe-making and fishing village of the day and the idea of zoning and rules hadn’t taken significant root in America then. Also, there weren’t any resorts around trying to preserve their piece of the pie.

What’s happening in the north woods of Minnesota isn’t much different than what happened in the ’60s in another part of the country. People who own cabins and cottages are trying to make a buck. It’s America, 1965.

It’s the pushback that’s different, judging by the article in The Timberjay about cabin owners who don’t want other cabin owners to rent their properties to other people.

For many, it’s hard to pick a side in the fight. Who wants their peace and quiet disturbed by a partying horde? On the other hand, if the woods and lakes are off-limits to people who can’t afford to own a cabin, where’s the fairness in that?

“The worst groups are those who come from nearby,” Lee Peterson, a resident on Lake Vermilion’s Isle of Pines and a former zoning official, tells The Timberjay.

He rents out his cabin.

Meanwhile, resorters, campgrounds, and motels are pushing for limits on rentals by private homeowners, contending they have to live with rules that the private homeowners don’t. The resorts also have to pay lodging taxes.

Peterson is unsympathetic. “The resorts got too expensive,” he said. “They’ve kind of cooked their own goose.”

Is there common ground to be had here? Probably not, judging by The Timberjay report.

And some resort owners suggest that more regulation isn’t necessarily the answer. Josh Gilson, president of the Lake Vermilion Resort Association, has discussed possible solutions with resort associations, lake associations, and chambers of commerce across the state — and he’s convinced that new regulations aren’t the answer.

“Just look at the county and state statutes, the laws are already in place that say if you’re renting for 30 days or more you have to meet the same standards [as a resort]. It’s really a matter of enforcement.”

Yet Gilson recognizes that enforcement over hundreds if not thousands of private-party rentals would be a major undertaking for the county. “The number of staff to take on all those private rentals would be astronomical,” he said.

Instead, Gilson said the Lake Vermilion Resort Association has used a friendlier approach, reaching out by letter to property owners renting their cabins or lake homes with information about the rules that govern such activity and a request to join their separate organization, the Lake Vermilion Resort and Tourism Association and to contribute to the local lodging tax.

Responses to the resort association’s initiative have varied, but Gilson said it has brought some of the vacation rental operators into compliance. “Others have told us to p__s off,” he said.


My old summer beach neighborhood is gone now. The cottages have given way to gazillion dollars homes; the little people can no longer afford to live or vacation there.

Presumably, the north woods of Minnesota still have plenty of places for a cabin for those who can afford it. But it’s the natural course for those who can’t to want a little slice of it every now and then.

  • Al

    Well, the peace and quiet disturbed by a partying horde certainly isn’t unique to renting out one’s cabin. So I hear from friends, and by friends I mean my parents who have some pretty wild neighbors. (Thankfully, said neighbors are only really around on major holidays and other assorted weekends; parents live there year-round.)

  • Rob

    The question isn’t whether the woods should be off-limits to people who can’t afford to own cabins (or aren’t interested in ownership). The question is whether the woods should be off-limits to inconsiderate jerks. The answer to the question is “Damn straight.”

  • Jeff C.

    My in-laws have a cabin that my family and I go to. It is lovely and
    peaceful. More busy on holiday weekends but still nice. I don’t know if
    the people who are there on a busy weekend are owners or renters…and
    it doesn’t matter. As long as they are respectful, I’m OK sharing the
    peacefulness with them. If they steal the peace, then I’m not OK with
    them – not because they are renters, but rather because they have
    taken something from me.

  • Barton

    While I have taken advantage of such rentals myself, I really believe they should be paying lodging taxes.

  • Jack Ungerleider

    Why does this seem to be an opportunity for some enterprising programmer to work with one or more Resort or Lake Associations to create a clearing house app that makes it easier for people to find and rent available cabins. Then the requirements for lodging taxes, etc. can be built into the app. The cabin owner can register their cabin in the app and take in the rental fees minus the taxes, membership allowance for the sponsoring Association, and the administrative fees for the clearing house. (There may be some out there, I’ve seen some commercials, but there may be a place for a locally affiliated option.)

  • Koert DuBois

    I’ve been following vacation rental conflicts for over ten years now.

    The problem isn’t with the concept of renting short-term. The problem is when vacation rental operators skirt established rules regarding length of stay and land-use (normally commercial use versus residential) in order to make more money than the investor who follows the local rules.

    The conflicts regarding vacation rentals as nuisances are the most widely publicized but the bigger issue is in regards to housing. When investors can exponentially increase their profits by renting to tourists instead of community members, it’s only a matter of time until all affordable rental housing is converted to lodging. And when investors increase their profits, it gives them even more leverage in their quest to corner entire markets.

    As a country, we’re in the midst of a family housing crisis, not a tourist accommodation crisis.