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REGIONAL- Addie and Ben Wales, of St. Paul, were just looking for a getaway place near Addie’s hometown of Ely when they found a log cabin on 40 acres of land in Eagles Nest Township in …
REGIONAL- Addie and Ben Wales, of St. Paul, were just looking for a getaway place near Addie’s hometown of Ely when they found a log cabin on 40 acres of land in Eagles Nest Township in September 2020.
“I grew up in Ely, I loved the area, and I wanted a place to stay when I come to Ely,” Addie said.
But what was a getaway for them turned into a getaway for others, as Addie and Ben decided to join the burgeoning community of short-term rental owners.
“We quickly realized that we wouldn’t be able to use it as often as we’d like, and we wanted to share it during the downtime,” Addie said.
To make the property more livable and also more marketable to prospective renters, the couple renovated the property by installing a well, a septic system, and solar-generated electricity before going through the process of St. Louis County permitting and licensing by the Minnesota Department of Health.
“Once we were all cleared, we listed it on Airbnb and VRBO. And we were able to start hosting guests,” Addie said.
The Wales’s cabin is among approximately 150 short-term rental properties now registered with the county, according to Jenny Bourbonais, Land Use Manager in the county’s Planning and Community Development Department.
“That would be just in St. Louis County zoning jurisdiction, so that’s outside any of the cities and municipalities,” she said. “Those are their own entities and do their own permitting or licensing. We’ve been proactive and reached out to all the properties that we were aware of to make sure that they knew they needed to get a permit. It’s been a challenge because a lot of these existed prior to any of the standards being put into place. It’s been a bit of a catch-up.”
Going through the process
St. Louis County permitting of short-term rentals covers all properties that are subject to county zoning ordinances, and Addie said she found it to be a lengthy process when they went through it.
“It’s not for the faint of heart, for someone who gives up easily,” she said. “The county has a long list of rules and regulations. There are standards around how big the property is, the sewage and septic must meet standards and code, there must be sufficient on-site parking, there must be a visual demarcation of property lines. All local, state and federal taxes and licenses must be followed. The county really does try to account for everything, from trash to property lines to liability insurance for hosts to make sure that renters are safe.”
Short-term rentals are licensed by the Minnesota Department of Health, and they had to obtain pre-approval from MDH before applying for county registration, Addie said. Once those processes were complete, MDH conducted an on-site inspection confirming that all sanitation, building, lighting, linen, furnishing, cleanliness, water, waste, and fire protection requirements were in place.
“They especially cared about fire safety,” Addie said. “Once all that is checked you can get your Minnesota license.”
The permitting process also required a public hearing at which neighbors could ask questions or make comments about whether they thought the short-term permit should be granted, Addie said.
The county recently revised and streamlined its permitting process, so new applicants won’t face some of the back and forth between agencies that the Wales’s did, Bourbonais said.
“It’s going to be more streamlined where property owners will come to St. Louis County first to get our permit, and then we forward that on to the Minnesota Department of Health and then they will go through that process,” Bourbonais said. “It’s going to be a much more consistent process.”
Addie said they were surprised by the number of people wanting to use their cabin.
“The demand is much higher than I originally anticipated,” she said. “At first we thought we would just try it out in the summer and fall, but then we had some people requesting if they could stay in the winter, so we made quite a few upgrades in order to make that possible. I was a bit worried that it wouldn’t be worth it, but we ended up being almost fully booked last winter as well as this winter. So demand is about 80-90 percent occupancy year round.”
In fact, demand has been so good that they decided to build a second cabin this past summer, a modern one quite different from the rustic log cabin, also in Eagles Nest Township.
“It’s just now finally ready for guests,” Addie said. “We just got our county license and we’re finalizing our MDH license, and we’ll be hosting guests really soon here this winter.”
Living in St. Paul, the couple uses a local cleaning service to turn the property around for new renters, and they have a couple of locals to do maintenance and check on the property. And in a pinch, Addie can call on an uncle or her mother, both of whom live nearby.
“For us, it’s really nice to have a vacation home in Ely, and this is the way that we’re able to afford to do so,” Addie said. “We’re thankful that guests are able to use it when we can’t. It helps to cover the mortgage for us.”
More information about the Wales’ short-term rental business, Ely Cabin Collective, can be found on their website at elycabincollective.com.
Current information about the county’s short-term rental permitting regulations and process is available online at https://www.stlouiscountymn.gov/departments-a-z/planning-development/land-use/short-term-rentals.
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