As mountain towns across the state grapple with how to regulate short-term rentals, the Colorado legislature is exploring multiple avenues to address the issue at the statewide level.
The annual legislative session began Wednesday, January 12, and lawmakers have yet to hear a bill on the matter, but lawmakers across West Slope will be proposing several.
Rep. Dylan Roberts, an Eagle Democrat representing Routt and Eagle counties, has worked with the state’s Affordable Housing Committee to draft a bill modeled after an idea implemented by the city of Winter Park. The bill has not yet been launched.
If the law passes, municipalities could seek government funding to incentivize owners to rent to a long-term tenant rather than a nightly guest.
“We think Winter Park has a really great local idea that should be spread across the state,” Roberts told Mountain Communities in an interview on Thursday, Jan. 13.
Roberts said the bill is not intended to create fewer short-term rentals, but instead to add more long-term options in mountain communities facing a massive affordable housing crisis.
“Short-term rents are definitely contributing to the affordable housing crisis that we have in our state,” Roberts said.
Still, Roberts believes the stricter regulations should be reserved for cities and counties that understand their community needs better than the state.
“Given that the short-term rental market varies greatly in different parts of this state, a statewide solution could have some unintended consequences,” Roberts said. “We want to do what we can to empower local communities to make those decisions and not stand in their way.”
Ulrich Salzgeber, president of the Steamboat Springs Real Estate Agents Committee, said the idea is theoretically helpful but may not be appropriate for most property owners.
“I love this concept and it will work for some people, but that doesn’t mean it will suit everyone’s needs,” Salzgeber said in an interview on Friday.
Salzgeber said most of those who run their properties as short-term renters are second-home owners hoping to use their property several times a year and one day retire to it. Many of them, he added, couldn’t afford their second homes without renting them out to late-night visitors.
“I think the perception out there is that big companies or corporations are buying units to rent out short-term,” Salzgeber said. “I’m sure some of that happens, but I’d say it’s in the lowest percentile.”
Because so many short-term rentals in Steamboat are not registered with the city, it’s impossible to measure how many there are and who operates them.
Salzgeber said the main problem with incentivizing property owners to rent long-term is that owners could stop using their property whenever they wanted.
“Motivating them might be a good idea, but the problem with that is that if you rent your property long-term, you lose use of it,” Salzgeber said. “It will fit some, but I don’t think it will fit much.”
Routt County Commissioner Tim Corrigan said commissioners across the state — through a statewide organization of county commissioners called Colorado Counties Incorporated — are reviewing whether to enforce a number of bills.
A possible bill, which is still an idea, would allow municipalities to tax short-term rental units such as hotels.
Corrigan said the reason for the proposed legislation is to tax short-term rentals, used year-round as nightly rentals, as a business, as many believe they are no different from other commercial businesses.
The details of the potential bill aren’t fully worked out, but Corrigan said lawmakers want lawmakers to distinguish between short-term rentals, which operate more like businesses, and those that are housed by a part-time resident and are only rented part-time throughout the year .
In Colorado, commercial property is taxed at a significantly higher rate than residential property for property tax purposes.
“This is a tax justice issue, so we’re going to be fair to all of our taxpayers,” Corrigan said.
The other Bill County Commissioners have discussed that AirBnb, VRBO, and other short-term rental platforms need to share certain information with municipalities so that municipalities can ensure that all listings on such sites comply with zoning laws.
Routt County does not permit short-term rentals in unincorporated portions of the county, but county officials do not enforce restrictions. Taking action would require a court order, which Corrigan said is difficult to obtain.
A bill that would require AirBnb and VRBO to comply with certain rules would solve the county’s dilemma, Corrigan hoped.
“If we had real transparency, which included a provision that would require platforms to remove a listing if a listing violates local building code codes, that would accomplish most of what we need,” Corrigan said.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email [email protected]