Vacation rentals differ from traditional lodgings such as motels in that renters take a key and are basically on their own.

 Duluth is expanding its oversight of the growing market for vacation rentals and is requiring homeowners to apply for permits if they want to rent out their properties to tourists.

The city's rules reflect a consensus reached by a statewide task force that studied the burgeoning vacation rental market, the Duluth News Tribune reported Sunday ( ). The focus was to ensure that vacation home rentals are a safe lodging alternative, managed and regulated on a level playing field with other lodging options.

Vacation rentals differ from traditional lodgings such as motels in that renters take a key and are basically on their own. They're offered few services, if any, and managers are often off-site.

Joel and Joy Johnson made a bit of history this month when the Duluth Planning Commission approved a permit for their duplex on Park Point, a narrow sand spit between Lake Superior and the Duluth-Superior harbors, which they offer for short-term guests. They were the first on a growing list of owners applying for permits.

It means $1,000 more in fees, but Joel Johnson said something needed to be done.

"There are some who don't pay sales tax, don't have inspections," he said. "They think it's an easy way to make money."

The new rules are meant to minimize the impact on residential areas, such as parking and noise, and deal with visitors' unfamiliarity with local rules, such as vacationers on Park Point trespassing on private land or being unaware of when the beach is closed.

Property owners are now required to give vacationers a detailed accounting of local rules and to inform neighbors of their business. Significant complaints about behavior will be tolerated only twice before a permit is revoked. Duluth will enforce a five-night minimum on rentals from June 15 to Sept. 15, and two nights the rest of the year.

The City Council approved the ordinance in December. Vacation rental operators have until April 30 to apply for permits. The Planning Commission recommended council approval for four businesses on March 12, and it has four more on its agenda for Tuesday.

In 2010, Arthur Frommer, of the well-known travel guides that bear his family's name, called vacation homes the "most pronounced trend in travel."

Hotels and resorts still claim a plurality of travelers at 44 percent, according to a 2011 study by Home Away, a national company that lists vacation rentals. Nearly 20 percent of stays are with friends and family. Next are vacation rentals, with 12 percent of the market. Bed-and-breakfast facilities have only 2 percent of the market.

Home Away lists more than 60 Duluth rentals on its website and 357 in the region.

Up the North Shore, Lake County adopted vacation rental regulations in 2011 but also allowed rental properties in areas along Lake Superior where they previously weren't allowed.

LeRoger Lind, of the town of Castle Danger, was a staunch opponent, saying the ordinance would ruin residential living along the North Shore.

"My opinion hasn't changed," he said. "It's basically changing residential areas into commercial areas."