Liberty Grove Approves Short-Term-Rental Ordinance

Town has also outsourced compliance monitoring

The Town of Liberty Grove has approved a short-term-rental (STR) ordinance and hired a company to help monitor compliance with it.

The ordinance is designed, according to its purpose statement, to “balance the interests of property owners to use their property as short-term rentals (STRs) with the interests of residents who seek to protect the quality of life and the character and stability of neighborhoods.”

The ordinance also aims to protect Door County’s potable-water supply by ensuring STR owners don’t rent to more people than the site’s private onsite wastewater treatment system (POWTS) can handle.

The town board approved the ordinance unanimously June 16, but it doesn’t take effect until Jan. 1, 2022. 

“We want to be fair,” said Nancy Goss, Liberty Grove Plan Commission chair and a town board supervisor. “We want to give STR owners the best opportunity to be compliant and to address their bookings.”

The ordinance requires STR owners to apply for an annual town license at costs of $250 initially and $150 for annual renewals. The owner must show a copy of the licenses from the Wisconsin Department of Trade, Agriculture and Consumer Protection and the Door County Tourism Zone Commission (DCTZC). Proof of POWTS design capacity and the proposed maximum occupancy are also required.

The Door County Sanitarian’s Office is already responsible for enforcing state standards for all POWTS for one- and two-family homes, regardless of the home’s use, and that wouldn’t change. An outside company, Granicus, will “monitor advertising to make sure what they’re [STR owners] advertising for meets what the records are,” Goss said. “If not, Liberty Grove won’t issue a license.”

The town approved the Granicus contract, also on June 16, for an annual cost of $7,830. The company will identify and compile the STR addresses within the town and the owners’ contact information. The contract estimated that Liberty Grove has 174 STRs within its limits. Granicus will also provide a 24/7 hotline for complaints.

Some of the rules within the ordinance – such as for off-street parking and signage – are already in place for all through existing town ordinances. Other rules that are new for STRs include a provision that the unit can be used only six times annually for outdoor events such as weddings, graduations and reunions. Other than that – and unlike the Town of Sevastopol’s draft ordinance – Liberty Grove does not limit how often an STR property can be rented. 

A copy of the rules must be provided to renters. The list includes instructions about where to park, how to deal with waste and recyclables, and when to observe quiet hours (10 pm – 7 am).

All STR owners are subject to the ordinance’s “three strikes” rule: If a property draws three verified complaints, the town can revoke the owner’s license. 

Good-neighbor rules, which the DCTZC adopted several years ago, will be amended to the ordinance later, Goss said. Other than that, the document is complete.

“Maybe in the future we’ll tweak it if we get complaints or if we feel something should be changed,” Goss said.

Goss said the commission chose to purchase three Granicus services: address identification, host compliance with POWTS capacity and a 24/7 hotline through which members of the public can report complaints and include video, audio or photos that document issues. Granicus would then contact the property owner or authorized agent to try to resolve the issue immediately and would also track the complaints for the ordinance’s three-strikes rule.

“If there are three verified complaints within a 12-month period, the license won’t be renewed,” Goss said.

Board members liked the idea of having professional, third-party data collection and complaint support. 

“It lends a little more credibility to our administration and enforcement,” Goss said.

The Granicus contract renews automatically on an annual basis unless the town gives three months’ advance notice of termination. Goss said the board liked the short-term nature of the contract. 

“It’s one year at a time,” Goss said. 

For the remainder of this year, Granicus will collect data, Goss said. All STR owners will then receive a letter notifying them of their responsibilities under the new ordinance. 

The plan commission had worked on the ordinance twice a month since January before passing it on to the town board for approval For the first couple of months, the meetings were open for public deliberation.

“That worked well until the later meetings, when it became argumentative and disrespectful and no longer productive, so we stopped it,” she said. 

The Door County Vacation Rental Association formed in response to the Town of Sevastopol’s draft ordinance that would limit the number of times a property owner can rent their property. The president and founder of that association, Patty Culliton, when asked to comment on Liberty Grove’s ordinance, said STR owners are “good neighbors who support enforcement of all nuisance laws unilaterally” across the county.

“Regulating the activities of homeowners who rent their homes and their renters one way, while failing to regulate identical activities by resident homeowners, is legally suspect,” Culliton said. “But the bottom line is that as an organization we have no problem with keeping occupancy numbers appropriate to septic capacity or parking not encroaching on anyone else.”

The organization disagrees with spending thousands of dollars for a third-party compliance monitoring agency. Culliton said those services are redundant and force STR owners to bear the brunt of the cost through the town’s application fees.

“We do not feel that a high-priced out of state call center like Granicus, aimed at one subset of property owners, brings anything to the table that cannot be provided within Door County, especially with the imminent raise in lodging taxes,” Cullitan said.