Breckenridge updates rules for short-term rentals amid firestorm of protests
If property owners want to rent their Breckenridge homes out on websites like Airbnb.com or VRBO.com, the town’s elected officials say that someone needs to be willing to pick up a phone.
The call might come in the middle of the day. The phone could ring at 3 a.m. The time doesn’t matter as much to council as someone taking responsibility for controlling the trash, parking and noise complaints generated by short-term rental properties.
Breckenridge Town Council withstood a hurricane of angry homeowners Tuesday night and held steadfast in unanimously approving on first reading what town staff framed as an update to the town’s business licensing procedures.
The practice of short-term renting — either by homeowners themselves or through property-management companies — has created a new way for owners to earn extra income renting out their homes for short stays. In a destination market like Breckenridge, short-term renting has allowed people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford property here to buy in Summit County.
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But the booming industry has also ignited a flood of criticism across the nation, drawing fire from people who feel like the rentals are destroying their neighborhoods and eroding the quality of life for those living nearby.
PARKING, TRASH AND NOISE
The ordinance is the town’s latest effort to answer mounting complaints generated by these rental properties and the impacts they’re having on neighbors.
Most basically, the ordinance would create a new fee structure, process for inspections and a new 24-hour hotline so people can phone in complaints about short-term rentals.
“It’s not addressing things internal to the house,” clarified Brian Waldes, Breckenridge’s director of finance, as he explained the ordinance is intended to quell issues over parking, trash and noise, not things like leaky faucets.
Most everyone who offered comments, however, took issue with a provision in the ordinance requiring “a local contact” to resolve complaints within one hour all hours of the day, every day of the year.
The owners argued the timeframe is too short, the language too vague and that the rule could force them into using a property-management company or stop them from renting altogether.
More than one said they felt like the town was discriminating against short-term rentals because, the owners claimed, no other business is required to take such measures at all hours of the night.
But council disagreed, stuck up for the neighbors and likened the rentals to commercial enterprises that need boots-on-the-ground oversight.
CALL THE POLICE
The owners adamantly maintained — with discussion lasting over an hour-and-a-half and focused mostly on noise complaints — that enforcement of these kinds of issues would be a job best left to Breckenridge police, not the property owners.
Again council disagreed, saying the department doesn’t have the manpower to police minor issues with short-term rentals, nor do police track the complaints related to short-term rentals.
“You know, the cops have more important things to do at 3 a.m. than go to your unit and tell people to be quiet,” Bergeron said. Also, creating the hotline would allow the town to identify the properties causing the biggest problems.
The owners also worried about what might happen if they were to go on vacation, or even take a trip to Denver, as having to respond within an hour, perhaps on-site, could squash their ability to be any more than an hour away from Breckenridge when their home’s being rented.
The ordinance doesn’t mandate anyone respond to complaints on-site, Waldes said, only that complaints be resolved within an hour or the property owner could face a hearing. If a phone call solves the problem, it’s resolved.
NOT THE FIRST
The new rules are months in the making, if not longer. Much is borrowed from Vail. According to Breckenridge officials, the biggest difference might be that Vail cuts the allotted time to respond to complaints in half, down from one hour to only 30 minutes, during the hours between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.
Before public comments, council members asked a number of questions to which they surely knew the answers. That’s because many of the same questions arose just a few hours earlier during a work session preceding the regular council meeting — and some even before that.
The reason for posing those questions was clear: Council wanted the packed audience to see Breckenridge’s proposed changes were less restrictive than other measures approved across the U.S. and in similar resort communities.
At least one person who attended Tuesday’s meeting said he wishes Breckenridge Town Council would cap the rentals.
As Jim Bradley relayed the problems he’s supposedly been having with a short-term rental next door, it sounded as if he’s been living next to a nightmare.
It’s a four-bedroom home that’s advertised online as sleeping quarters for up to 15 people, Bradley said, adding that translates to six to 10 cars outside the home on a regular basis. Bradley said he’s “called and called” about the parking problems, but noise has become a real issue too.
“It’s not compatible with the rest of the neighborhood,” he said of the rental.
While Bradley said he hates living next to a short-term rental, another man was worried the new rules could threaten his ability to keep making payments on his Breckenridge condo, which he said he could only afford because he’s renting it out.
Others who addressed council sought clarification, pitched hypothetical situations or offered their opinions. One inquiry asked town staff to define exactly what makes “a local agent.”
The explanation was vague in the sense the agent can be anyone who’s able to resolve a complaint within an hour. It could be the owner, a family member, friend or someone who’s paid, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be anyone affiliated with a property-management company. The determining factor, Waldes said, is that the “agent can respond within 60 minutes.”
“What does it mean to respond?” another renter asked in a follow-up.
“The language in the ordinance is ‘to resolve the issue,’” Waldes said. “If the issue isn’t resolved within an hour, then that would be considered a violation of the ordinance.”
Anyone accused of a violation could request a hearing, Waldes added. He would unilaterally decide on the hearing, but there is some recourse for owners who feel they’ve been falsely accused or were subjected to forces outside their control, such as a snowstorm.
After repeated violations, though, town could move to revoke a homeowner’s business license.
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