Breckenridge passes update of town’s short-term rental regulations after tweaking proposal
An issue of safety
One added provision in the administrative regulations of Breckenridge’s new short-term rental regulations pertains to inspections of short-term rentals, which town staff have said are only intended to promote public safety.
In a previous version, inspectors were supposed to try to contact the owner if no one was home when the inspector arrived at the property. In the updated draft, the order has been reversed so inspectors will first try to contact the owner or responsible agent over the phone to set up an appointment before going to the rental.
“We just changed the language to reflect what we were going to do anyway,” Breckenridge director of finance Brian Waldes said, explaining the town was always going to try to contact the owner or agent before knocking on anyone’s door.
Additionally, inspections will not be performed on any kind of regular basis, nor will they be mandatory. Rather, Waldes said, “It’s just about making sure the places are safe.”
— Eli Pace
Everyone seemed to get to speak their piece Tuesday night, but nobody got what they really wanted when Breckenridge Town Council unanimously passed a series of changes updating the town’s rules and regulations regarding short-term rentals.
Short-term renting has created a new way for property owners to earn extra income by renting out their homes for short stays on websites like Airbnb.com and VRBO.com or through property-managment companies. However, the practice has also ignited debates across the county as many people feel like short-term rentals are degrading the quality of life in residential neighborhoods.
The most contentious provision of the ordinance, passed Tuesday on second reading in Breckenridge, will allow the town to set up a 24-hour hotline so that people may call with complaints about short-term rentals. When a complaint comes in, the hotline will then contact a designated “responsible agent” who will have up to one hour to resolve the complaint or face a possible violation. Repeated violations could result in the loss of the owner’s business license. No violation would be assessed without a hearing, should the property owner request one.
Town staff and council have repeatedly framed this as the town’s best effort to reign in the noise, parking and trash complaints piling up outside these properties while refraining from infringing on property owners’ rights inside the homes.
“If we’re respecting private property rights, I think on the other side we have to respect the rights of the neighborhood and community that might be having issues and trouble,” Councilman Gary Gallagher said. “I think this really speaks to making sure we are caring for the neighborhood and the neighbors as much as we are for those who own the properties and have private property rights.”
With the ordinance, council also set some new fees and definitions while exempting short-term rentals already operating with 24-hour security, front desk and phone systems, like Beaver Run Resort.
Neighbors described the problems they’ve been having living next to these properties, defined as anything that’s rented out for less than 30 days. For some, the council didn’t go nearly far enough, hoping to see occupancy caps put on the rentals.
On the other hand, property owners thought the rules went too far. Some argued they’ve never had any problems with their renters, but live out of state and fear being forced into using a property-management company. Nothing in the ordinace says someone must hire a property-management company, only that a “responsible agent” be available to address complaints, be it the owner, a family member, friend or someone who’s paid to provide such a service.
Other owners, who do live locally, have questioned what might happen when they go on vacation, take a daytrip to Denver or otherwise can’t get to the property in time.
Council wouldn’t budge from its position that short-term rental owners must take responsibility for the complaints at their properties and likened them to small-business owners. The town did, however, tweak numerous aspects of the proposal from first reading to second based on some of those concerns.
The changes include replacing “local agent” with “responsible agent” to avoid confusion while adding a provision for an alternate responsible agent in case the primary agent cannot be reached and clarifying what exactly constitutes “resolving a complaint.”
New language in the administration regulations, which go with the ordinance but don’t need council approval, now clearly state that the responsible agent may not actually be required to go out to the property to resolve a complaint, especially if it is deemed unsafe.
“We put in a provision to make it clear that the town is not expecting anybody to put their life in danger to enforce these rules and regulations,” town attorney Tim Berry told council. “It’s not our intent, and we don’t want that to happen.”
If the responsible agent feels he or she cannot safely address the issue, the agent should call police, town manager Rick Holman emphasized.
In passing the ordinance, council members expressed their belief the new rules won’t likely be a problem for the vast majority of short-term rental owners and took solace in the fact that neither owners nor neighbors seemed completely happy with the ordinance.
“We went through the gamut with occupancy and everything. This is what we felt like is the correct, right step,” said Mayor Eric Mamula addressing people from both camps. “I know that for some of you, it is not enough and, for some of you, it is too far, which means we’re probably in an OK place to start.”
Much of the ordinance was gleaned from a similar measure in Vail. Reached over the phone, Vail’s tax and licensing administrator Johannah Richards said she thinks the biggest test will come with the ski season, but Vail’s already seen “quite a few” complaints since launching the hotline.
Of those complaints, Richards added, only two weren’t resolved within the allotted timeframe. Both concerned life-safety complaints like carbon monoxide detectors not functioning.
Additionally, she said it’s been “extremely helpful” for Vail to finally be able to quantify the numbers and kinds of complaints the town’s seeing from its short-term rentals. Previously, she said, it was easy to make assumptions, but now the town’s getting real data about how big issues related short-term rentals, like illegal parking, really are.
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