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New short-term rental legislation causes controversy in the Northwoods
NORTHWOODS - Owning a second home can be expensive. Between property taxes and maintenance costs, homeowners are sometimes paying more than the property is worth.

Thanks to a new law, homeowners now have more power over what they can do with their home when they aren't using it.

Wisconsin legislators passed a new law that protects the ability of homeowners to rent out their homes on a short-term basis with the hope of increasing second-home ownership. But the law has some members of the Northwoods community worried about their peace and quiet. 

"It's just disruptive. It's just not a residential area anymore," said Paul Werner, a resident of Sugar Camp.

Werner and his wife, Karen, have owned their home since 1972.

"It just been one mess right after the other with the renters," said Werner.

Over the years, Werner has had countless bad experiences with a neighboring home that rents short-term.

"Every week it's a different group of people, it's a different group of noise, and a different group of kids screaming and yelling," Werner said.

Werner is worried others in the Northwoods will have the same bad experience because of the recent change in the law.

"If people are going to come up and be respectful, it's going to be no problem. If people are going to come up partying and shooting off fireworks every night, then we're going to see some real backlash," said Jim Mulleady of Coldwell Banker Mulleady Realtors.

The controversial law, which passed as a part of the budget, gives homeowners rather than local government control of home rentals.

"We've always had the desire for people to rent out their homes," said Oneida County Zoning Director Karl Jennrich.

Jennrich says there has been an increase in rental permit requests. But he worries about taking away local control.

"Once you start renting it out on such a basis, it's more of a business," Jennrich said.

The owner of Holiday Acres Resort in Rhinelander, Kim Zambon, was disappointed with the way the law was passed. He said the process didn't allow for any public debate.

"I think we're opening up the marketplace to some pretty unregulated and uncontrolled rental opportunities," Zambon said.

Zambon worries about the effect the change will have on his own business.

"I think there should be an even playing field," he said.

Steven Petersen, board president of the Minocqua Chamber of Commerce, says that as long as the resort business is protected, more foot traffic in the Northwoods is good for the economy.

"It just enhances our community, makes it a better community when we have people coming here and leaving their money," Petersen said.

Homeowner Curt Frost isn't trying to compete with local resorts. He lives in Illinois and rents out his second home in Minocqua. Frost said owning the home wouldn't be worth it if he couldn't rent it out and offset some of the property taxes and maintenance costs.

"It wouldn't make that much sense to have that much money parked in a second home," he said. "There wouldn't be any tax advantages, and we probably wouldn't enjoy it the same way." 

But the Werners think they have a right to enjoy their home too.

"They say people, like the neighbors here, have a right to do things on their property. But don't the rest of us have a right?" said Werner.

State Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) did not support the law being put into the budget.

"They better make sure that their renters are not causing trouble, because if there's enough problems that are created, we'll have to take the privilege away from them," Tiffany said.

Local governments can make regulations that require property owners to comply with noise standards, parking requirements, and health permits.

The law also allows local governments to place a six-month cap on rentals, but Oneida County is not doing that. It is requiring a seven-day minimum on home rentals. 

Story By: Fitzgerald, Maggie


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