In tension over vacation rentals, whose enjoyment matters most?

When I was a kid, we had a trailer on the north shore of Massachusetts. Most of the cottages nearby were rentals and I’m guessing there wasn’t much oversight of who was renting.

It was a beach town in the early ’60s, transitioning from the shoe-making and fishing village of the day and the idea of zoning and rules hadn’t taken significant root in America then. Also, there weren’t any resorts around trying to preserve their piece of the pie.

What’s happening in the north woods of Minnesota isn’t much different than what happened in the ’60s in another part of the country. People who own cabins and cottages are trying to make a buck. It’s America, 1965.

It’s the pushback that’s different, judging by the article in The Timberjay about cabin owners who don’t want other cabin owners to rent their properties to other people.

For many, it’s hard to pick a side in the fight. Who wants their peace and quiet disturbed by a partying horde? On the other hand, if the woods and lakes are off-limits to people who can’t afford to own a cabin, where’s the fairness in that?

“The worst groups are those who come from nearby,” Lee Peterson, a resident on Lake Vermilion’s Isle of Pines and a former zoning official, tells The Timberjay.

He rents out his cabin.

Meanwhile, resorters, campgrounds, and motels are pushing for limits on rentals by private homeowners, contending they have to live with rules that the private homeowners don’t. The resorts also have to pay lodging taxes.

Peterson is unsympathetic. “The resorts got too expensive,” he said. “They’ve kind of cooked their own goose.”

Is there common ground to be had here? Probably not, judging by The Timberjay report.

And some resort owners suggest that more regulation isn’t necessarily the answer. Josh Gilson, president of the Lake Vermilion Resort Association, has discussed possible solutions with resort associations, lake associations, and chambers of commerce across the state — and he’s convinced that new regulations aren’t the answer.

“Just look at the county and state statutes, the laws are already in place that say if you’re renting for 30 days or more you have to meet the same standards [as a resort]. It’s really a matter of enforcement.”

Yet Gilson recognizes that enforcement over hundreds if not thousands of private-party rentals would be a major undertaking for the county. “The number of staff to take on all those private rentals would be astronomical,” he said.

Instead, Gilson said the Lake Vermilion Resort Association has used a friendlier approach, reaching out by letter to property owners renting their cabins or lake homes with information about the rules that govern such activity and a request to join their separate organization, the Lake Vermilion Resort and Tourism Association and to contribute to the local lodging tax.

Responses to the resort association’s initiative have varied, but Gilson said it has brought some of the vacation rental operators into compliance. “Others have told us to p__s off,” he said.


My old summer beach neighborhood is gone now. The cottages have given way to gazillion dollars homes; the little people can no longer afford to live or vacation there.

Presumably, the north woods of Minnesota still have plenty of places for a cabin for those who can afford it. But it’s the natural course for those who can’t to want a little slice of it every now and then.