Don't You Be My Neighbor 

The Idaho Legislature decides if homeowners should be allowed to rent homes temporarily despite HOA pushback

Next door neighbors Jonathan Frost and Ron Evans have a disagreement. However, rather than argue over the fence, their beef has escalated to the Idaho Legislature.

Here's the rub: Frost bought the beautiful wooden luxury cabin beside Evans in the Windsong Subdivision in Donnelly a year ago. When Frost bought the house near Lake Cascade, he decided to make it a vacation rental home. He advertised it on online services such as Airbnb and had no trouble filling it year round.

"We had a lot of experience renting, but after we purchased this property, [my wife and I] were shocked," Frost said. "There's a huge shortage of hotel beds in McCall. The population of the town swells from 3,000 to 60,000 during the McCall Winter Carnival, and that's a huge influx that a hotel can't sustain throughout the year."

His new vacation rental home did wonders for Frost's fledgling business—Frost Cabins, Inc.—as well as supporting his family of five, which includes a sixth-grader, second-grader and newborn.

Frost's next door neighbor, Ron Evans, wasn't so pleased. He's owned the home next to Frost's for 16 years, using it primarily as a second home. However, now that he and his wife are retired, they spend most of their time in Donnelly.

"It seemed benign at first," Evans said. "But we would have 10 to 20 people showing up to that house for three days at a time, then leaving for another group to show up right on their heels."

Evans said the visitors would bring small children, stay up late and drink around the fire pit, and ride ATVs up and down the roads.

"We had one group there, the weekend after the Fourth of July, that decided to stay up until 3 a.m. playing horseshoes and drinking beer," Evans said. "We had another group with California plates on their cars. They had one word they loved to use and that was the F-bomb. Not that I haven't heard it before, but come on guys. Let's chill out."

Evans said Frost bought the house without telling the neighbors or the homeowner's association that oversees the subdivision that he planned to turn it into a short-term rental.

Frost said the house was advertised as having great "vacation rental potential" on the very yard sign outside of the house.

Regardless, on Dec. 9, 2015, the HOA members voted 44-3 to disallow short-term vacation rental properties in the subdivision. Frost said he was shocked at the decision.

"I said to the HOA, 'You guys are our friends. You've had us over for dinner, you know we're right down the street and we would be at the rental house if there was a problem,'" Frost said. "Why didn't they text me [when guests were being loud]? They said, 'We don't want to run to mommy and daddy every time there's a problem.'"

The HOA threatened a $300 fine per day the house was rented and an additional $200 fine for every day the house was advertised to be rented. Then, it slapped an additional $11,700 fine on Frost for "liquidated damages."

"They said, 'If you don't pay us, we'll seize and foreclose on the home,'" Frost said. "I don't have $11,700 to pay them. We have to file a lawsuit within 30 days to save our home."

Legally, the HOA has the power to do this. It can alter covenants, conditions and restrictions if the majority of the members vote in favor of the changes. In this case, they did.

"I think there's a real danger here," Evans said, who is vice president of the subdivision's HOA. "After Frost moved in and we all got to experience this first-hand, we drafted up a restriction on short-term rentals, saying there had to be a minimum of six months on the lease. We attached fines, because we needed a way to cause action, otherwise it would just continue."

Frost went to his local legislator, Donnelly Republican Rep. Terry Gestrin, and pled his case. Gestrin crafted a bill that would take away HOAs' abilities to prohibit short-term rentals. It doesn't affect long-term rental leases.

The bill faced a heated debate in the Idaho House of Representatives lead by Boise Democratic Rep. Ilana Rubel, who was against it.

"It's a brave new world out there in rentals and new technology such as Airbnb, which allows people to rent places to a different tenet every night," Rubel said. "People thought they bought into a nice subdivision and find out they bought into a motel."

Rubel herself sits on the board of an HOA representing the Bogus Basin condos. She told her own horror story of a failed short-term tenant after the owner of the condo left for a year in New Zealand.

"He rented the condo to a couple that turned out to be bizarre," she said. "They screamed obscenities, running around with knives and a spear. They would press their noses against the caretakers' windows at night. While the owner is happily collecting rent in New Zealand, we're miserable with these tenants."

Despite Rubel's pushback, the bill passed 60-6 before moving to the Senate Commerce and Human Resources Committee, and passed the full Idaho Senate March 15 on a vote of 20-14. It now goes to Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's desk.

Because the bill passed, it allows Frost to go back to renting his home in Donnelly, which he said he is grateful for. He said paying the mortgage with no help from renters has been incredibly hard on his family.

"This has been a huge, nerve-wracking, sleepless-night kind of issue," Frost said.

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