FERGUS FALLS, Minn. — It seems everyone likes Airbnb until there's one next door in Lake Country.

Neighbors living next to vacation home rentals in Minnesota's most lake-rich county are hoping a new ordinance will bring some reprieve after years of large, loud parties, but some vacation homeowners say the regulations are an overreach.

Eight miles north of Fergus Falls on Lake Jewett, homeowner Steve Eriksson said the rotating cast of guests next door treated most weekends like the Fourth of July. Fireworks flaring at 1 a.m. Guests shouting from a crowded hot tub. The sheriff came but the parties carried on. This ruckus repeated most weeks, even in winter and especially when a bachelor or bachelorette party booked the Airbnb. It accrued the most complaints of the roughly 300 vacation homes in Otter Tail County, which boasts more lakes than any county in the state with 1,048.

The Otter Tail County Board of Commissioners this week passed an ordinance to restrict noise and occupancy. But months ago, Eriksson's problem was solved when the five-bedroom rental owned by Chris Buttke sold to a young family.

"But it's sort of in the back of my mind, anytime any place goes up for sale, I am concerned that it becomes an Airbnb," said Eriksson's wife Jane McLandress on a recent sunny afternoon.

As for Buttke's reaction to the ordinance? "It just seems to me like it's more ammunition for the angry neighbor that doesn't want it," he said.

Only a handful out of the hundreds of vacation homes became problematic over the years and created the need for regulations, said Chris LeClair, land and resource manager.

"Those vacation rental owners need to be cognizant of disturbing the peace of the neighbors, so we're trying to make sure that these can coexist," LeClair said.

The new Otter Tail ordinance goes into effect July 1. Commissioner Dan Bucholz was the only vote against the ordinance. He said he wanted to wait to enact the regulations until January 2025 because many tourists already booked an Airbnb for the summer and may have to uninvite guests to stay compliant.

"It's like moving the 40-yard line," he said. "And I don't think that was fair."

Line in the sand

The ordinance enforces quiet hours from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., prohibits the use of RVs, tents or fish houses to increase the occupancy, restricts the number of guests by the size of the septic system (1 person per 50 gallons per day) or number of beds, whichever is less. The maximum occupancy is for all hours of the day, not just at night.

It's similar to what Crow Wing County did in 2020 to rein in short-term rentals, of which there are roughly 500 in the Brainerd Lakes Area. But unlike Otter Tail, the Crow Wing ordinance limits overnight guests (not day) to no more than three people per bedroom plus one additional person per unit.

LeClair said the biggest concern for Otter Tail is the strain on septic systems, which can be damaged and contaminate groundwater and lakes. Crow Wing's ordinance also has septic compliance inspections as the linchpin of the licensing system.

Noncompliance with any of the restrictions could result in license suspension or revocation.

Some Otter Tail vacation homeowners say enforcement seems too subjective and vague without a clear three strikes you're out rule, like what's on the books in Crow Wing.

Franci and Dan Gleason rent out their Paul Lake cabin just west of Perham and live down the street. Under the ordinance, only seven guests are allowed at their two-bedroom Airbnb.

"There's a lot of things that we don't allow on our own vacation home rental anyway, so most of it won't impact us," Franci Gleason said.

But they are concerned about the broad wording of the ordinance that says owners can be held liable for any civil or criminal penalties incurred on behalf of renters.

"Somehow or another I'm going to be responsible and someone can come sue me and take my property because of some stupid frisbee or that the dog got loose," she said.

Otter Tail County Attorney Michelle Eldien said that's not the intent of the ordinance. It's more about licensing to manage new businesses, she said, because she already could charge a renter, for example, with disorderly conduct or disturbing the peace.

"We're not going to go after people if they didn't know anything, or weren't understanding that there was a problem," she said.

Bucholz said he sees this summer as a trial period and commissioners can later refine the ordinance language.

That's what happened in Crow Wing over the years. Gary Griffin, its land services director, said the county has established a hotline to call to report rowdy behavior. The rental owner must make contact within an hour to get it rectified, or it's a substantiated complaint. Three complaints, you lose your license. But false reporting can result in fines, too.

"We have not had to revoke a license, but we have had to send letters from the county attorney. Either they conformed or they stopped renting all together," Griffin said.

Brian Martinson, policy analyst for the Association of Minnesota Counties, said counties have been wrestling with vacation rentals since at least 2007 and have approached the issue in different ways.

"At the core of it, counties aren't out looking to regulate and impose themselves on businesses or residents, but they react to the needs of their community," he said.

Whether neighbors have patience for that process is a different story.

An Airbnb on Tamarac Lake in Pelican Rapids is so unruly neighbors say earplugs and fans can't drown out the noise. The only peace they find is between rentals, when the house is being cleaned. It's capped at nine guests under the ordinance, and they hope that helps.

There's also an argument that these new rules don't go far enough.

Jody and Dale Hanson submitted most of the four complaints lodged against Buttke's Airbnb on Lake Jewett. They said if it was still operational, the ordinance wouldn't have made a difference. Their wish? A minimum stay of seven days "to cut down on these people who just want to use it for the weekend party," Dale said, adding that Florida earlier this year made it illegal to rent out a residential property for less than 30 days without a license.

Buttke said the complaints and county overreach led him to sell the place, but he still lives in Fergus Falls. He thought Airbnb would be fun, bring in some extra income, but it was ruled to death.

"Not all guests are good guests, but you don't know that until you're there," Buttke said. "It's just no different than somebody's kids throwing a party when they're gone. I mean, you don't have a lot of control over that."

Even with the line drawn in the sand between Airbnb owners and residents, both sides share the mindset that renters bear some responsibility.

Crow Wing said after years of refining and enforcing the ordinance, Airbnb owners have done more vetting and filtering of guests.

"People are very protective of their lake," Griffin said. "This has really helped folks have more confidence that we're doing our part, allowing it with obviously some regulation, but not stifling."