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Home Rentals for Football Weekends Under Review by Borough Officials

by on August 25, 2014 6:00 AM

It's no secret that Penn State football games draw quite a crowd and visitors are often in need of lodging.

Frequently, State College residents will rent out their homes for the weekend to help meet the demand and make a little cash in the process.

But what are the rules when it comes to short-term leases?

With a high-profile debate underway regarding two homes a local couple rents out to temporary guests, StateCollege.com asked State College Borough's Planning and Community Development Director Ed LeClear and Zoning Officer John Wilson to outline the rules when it comes to renting out homes during home football games and other event weekends.

First, if residents live in a home they own and want to rent it out for an event weekend, LeClear and Wilson say the borough does not currently have any rules or restrictions in place. As long as the owner of the home resides in the home, the owner can rent the space for short-term guests.

However, it's possible that could change in the future. The planning department is in the process of evaluating such rental situations to determine if they contribute to nuisance in the borough, and if so, what, if any, measures should be put in place at the borough level.

Borough staff began a review of "football rentals" last fall and will continue the research this football season, says LeClear.

"We're trying to get a handle on the enforcement issues related to them and until we have a better understanding of the issues related to football weekends we are not taking enforcement action," says LeClear.

The research includes borough staff patrolling neighborhoods, monitoring properties, reviewing complaints from residents, reviewing police statistics, and monitoring rental advertisements. They're monitoring quality of life issues, such as noise, parking, congestion and litter.

While officials do not know exactly how many homeowners rent out their spaces for football weekends, Wilson says it's "substantial." Just how common it is depends on how well the team is performing in a particular season as well as other factors like the weather.

LeClear says he and his staff want to be careful with their evaluation and not assume the football rentals are the core cause of disturbances in neighborhoods.

"We want to know how many are related to football rental use as opposed to other activities occurring on weekends that may be related to student homes or local residents. It's important to really determine if the nuisance and neighborhood issues are stemming from football rentals or are they stemming from other uses in the neighborhoods and maybe they're being attributed to football rentals. So we're doing our due diligence. We, as a staff, really want to make sure we have a good idea of what's going on before talking with council about it," says LeClear.

The borough does have rules and regulations in place for "tourist rentals," the type of rental where the owner does not live in the home and instead allows short-term guests to rent the property.

Not any property owner can operate a "tourist rental" in State College.

If someone owns a home in the borough, doesn't reside in that property, and wants to rent it to short-term guests as the primary use, the home must be located in a particular zoning district. In State College, that only applies to homes in R-4, commercial, and Urban Village districts.

"The difference between standard football weekend rentals and tourist homes is whether or not the property owner resides there," says Wilson. "When a property is not owner-occupied and it's rented with an emphasis on short-term stays and special event weekends it would be considered a tourist home and is not permitted in most of the residential zoning districts in State College."

To determine which zone a property is located in, click HERE or call the Planning Department at 814-234-7109.

If the property is located in a district that allows tourist homes, the owner would be required to obtain a zoning permit from the borough. If guests are staying for longer than seven days at a time, the owner would also need a rental permit under the property maintenance ordinance and a condition of that permit is a property inspection by the Centre Region Code Agency.

Ultimately, violators can face fines up to $500 per day for illegal property use.

"We work very hard to resolve the issue before it would ever get to a court," LeClear says. "We're trying to be fair to property owners and also be fair to the neighborhoods as far as if there are nuisance issues related to tourist properties and short-term rentals. We want to find a way to address them."

Tourist homes are rare in State College. Officials say they are only aware of three tourist homes. Officials say Craig and Susan Stout own two of those properties. However, the Stouts have challenged the label of "tourist homes."

According to a July 22 written decision by the State College Borough Zoning Hearing Board, last fall, the borough received complaints from a resident who claimed the Stouts' properties were not in compliance with permitted uses for the R-2 zoning district.

Officials determined the properties were being used as "tourist homes." The borough then issued a letter to the Stouts saying the use violated the zoning ordinance.

The Stouts appealed the borough's conclusion and went before the zoning hearing board July 8. During the hearing, the couple argued the borough's definition of a "tourist home" was vague. The borough argued that because the owners do not reside in the home and market the properties for short-term stays over event weekends, the property is a "tourist home."

The zoning hearing board sided with the borough, saying in its decision, "Applicants originally purchased the ... property with the intent to 'flip' it. They wanted to renovate a property that was in need of repair and then resell it for a profit. They were prevented from doing so by the downturn of the economy. At that time, they began looking for other ways to cover their investment. They decided that short-term leasing had a market."

The board concluded the owners offered the properties for short-term stays on a continuous basis, with only intermittent stays for longer periods – the longest being three months – and that the borough's language for a "tourist home" is not vague.

"The board is sympathetic to the fact the applicants encountered a bad economy and had to 'make due.' However, what they are now attempting to do with the properties is not permitted in the R-2 district," the board said in its July 22 decision.

The Stouts can appeal the board's decision through Centre County Common Pleas Court.

College Township

In College Township, if you want to rent out your home for even one night you must apply for a temporary rental permit, according to Mike Heath, the zoning officer. Residents can only rent out their homes for events, such as football games or the Arts Fest, for a total of 30 days in a year.

The zoning permit fee is $25.

In the application, a resident must provide insurance information, home location, details about what portion of the home will be rented and the dates the owner intends to rent their home. The dates can be modified if the owner does not rent the home on a date initially listed in the application, Heath says.

Once the township issues permit, the packet goes to a Centre Region codes officer so officials can perform a health and safety site inspections.

Ferguson Township

In Ferguson Township, officials do not regulate weekend rentals, according to Jeff Ressler, zoning administrator. However, if residents rent out a property for more than seven consecutive days, they are required to go through the rental permitting process. For more information, click HERE.

Harris Township

In Harris Township, officials also do not regulate weekend rentals, according to Township Manager Amy Farkas. But once again, if residents rent out a property for more than seven consecutive days, they must go through the rental permitting process. For more information,  click HERE.

Patton Township

In Patton Township, officials also do not regulate weekend rentals, says Township Manager Doug Erickson. But if a home is rented out for more than seven consecutive days, the rental permitting process comes into play. For more information,  click HERE.

Erickson also notes that state law requires residents who rent out their homes for short-term stays to pay a hotel tax to Centre County. For more information, contact the Centre County Treasurer's Office.

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Jennifer Miller is a reporter for StateCollege.com. She has worked in journalism since 2005. She's covered news at the local, state and national level with an emphasis on crime and local government.
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