If you’ve read our November issue, you probably noticed This Old House, a story about Glenn Odegard’s renovation of the long-abandoned John Riordan House in Jerome. The house was damaged by a mudslide in the 1950s and sat vacant for decades before Odegard bought and repaired it. Now, he’s renting the house out for vacationers and other tourists.
And that last part is what spurred an email we received recently from a business owner in Jerome. She claimed that vacation rentals in Jerome’s residential zone are “illegal,” and she further stated that “now readers will be given the impression that tourists staying in single-family residential homes is OK, when it’s not.”
The question that immediately sprang to mind: If these vacation rentals are illegal, why doesn’t Jerome do something about them?
It turns out that the letter writer, along with others in Jerome, holds an interpretation of Jerome’s laws that the town itself does not appear to share. And that difference of opinion has fueled a simmering controversy in the tiny hillside town.
Several houses in Jerome’s residential zone have been turned into vacation rentals. Opponents claim doing so displaces permanent residents and puts stress on the town’s aging infrastructure. Others, though, point out that visitors staying in rentals boost the town’s economy.
Over the summer, Jerome residents voted on an ordinance that would have regulated vacation rentals. It would have split the town into seven districts and allowed one such rental in each district. Existing rental properties would have been grandfathered in, though.
Voters rejected the ordinance by a 3-1 margin. Some said the penalties for violations of the ordinance weren’t stiff enough, but others objected to the grandfathering-in of existing rentals. They claim, as our letter writer did, that the rentals are operating illegally, so grandfathering them in would be endorsing an illegal activity.
Those opponents point to the town code, which spells out what is allowed in residentially zoned neighborhoods. A line in the code says that any use not listed in the code is prohibited. Vacation rentals aren’t specifically listed, so opponents say that means they’re illegal.
But proponents of the rentals, including Jerome Mayor Nikki Check, have said the code's language is unlikely to stand up in court. They say that state law regarding property rights would trump what’s on the books in Jerome. And thus far, the town does not appear to have taken any action against Odegard or other vacation-rental owners.
For what it’s worth, here’s our take: As a travel magazine, we’re in the business of promoting tourism in Arizona — not interpreting and enforcing local laws. So, we’ll continue to point our readers to interesting things happening around our state — and the John Riordan House certainly fits that description.
But what do you think? Share your opinions in the comments.
(Photo: Peggy Coleman | Jerome)