Summit County begins weighing rules for AirBnB, VRBO rentals
Taking the lead from the town of Breckenridge, Summit County government is deliberating whether to develop new guidelines on short-term rental units for the unincorporated areas it oversees to get a better handle on just how many exist.
Breckenridge created its first ordinances requiring owners obtain a business license on investment properties as far back as a decade ago to collect sales and lodging taxes on their use as vacation rentals. The fees go toward the town’s marketing budget as it continues to attempt to stay competitive with other resort destinations.
Still, the proliferation of services like VRBO, HomeAway and AirBnB make verifying the actual number of residences in the community available for short stays that compete with the hotel industry a challenge.
“It’s hard to identify how many short-term rentals there are, but we try to work through the management companies to make sure their clients are in compliance,” said Rick Holman, Breckenridge town manager. “But the AirBnBs are tough, especially if someone has a couch or a spare bedroom listed.”
This past June, Breckenridge’s council amended a town code so that all short-term listings must now include a business license number to better track whether a property is operating properly. The town is also primed to hire an outside consulting firm that uses proprietary software to help monitor the online inventory and ensure owners conform to the regulations.
As the county increasingly experiences similar obstacles from the annual expansion of short-term rentals — and has heard unease from full-time residents about the issue through ongoing master plan outreach — the planning department is looking for direction from the Board of County Commissioners. Planning director Don Reimer and community development director Jim Curnutte raised the idea of beginning the process for establishing the county’s own set of rules at a work session this past Tuesday.
“We’ve heard from the community with concerns of short-term rentals, some based on the noise, traffic, parking and trash — things like that,” said Reimer. “It’s also partly some concerns that short-term rentals have decreased the opportunity for long-term rentals.”
The American Community Survey, an annual study produced by the U.S. Census Bureau on the country’s varied regions and economic health, estimates that between 65 and 70 percent of Summit’s residential properties are designated as second homes. That means they either sit vacant for large chunks of the year, or are a part of the short-term business model.
The county defines a long-term lease as one of six months or more, otherwise it’s considered short-term. And as more owners decide to convert past rentals at or beyond that length to AirBnB, that hurts the overall stock of options for would-be year-round residents, which contributes to the current local housing crisis.
Like Breckenridge, however, the county does not at this point have its sights set on banning the commercial enterprise while it works to solve the area’s housing difficulties. Despite drawbacks noted among full-time residents who live in neighborhoods where short-term rentals are prevalent, the model also provides a necessary boost to the county’s hotel stock and allows more tourism — and tourism dollars — through the community.
“It’s essentially part of the operations of the resort,” said Reimer. “Just relying on Hampton Inns and other hotels, we just simply don’t have enough rooms. Short-term rentals have a huge positive impact on our economy for restaurants and other businesses and allows more visitors and guests to be here.”
As a result, finding the middle ground is what county staff hopes to do once it receives direction from the commissioners on how to start. Determining that rentals are safe, in addition to assisting with mitigating potential impacts to neighbors from the turnstile of visitors not as familiar or concerned with local norms for garbage and recycling services, parking protocols and when community quiet hours go into effect, is also of high priority.
Initial feedback from the commissioners was to consider working with the other municipalities, perhaps through the Summit Combined Housing Authority where each is a member, to come up with a consistent methodology countywide. Even so, Breckenridge has created the starting point for discussions with its ahead-of-the-curve approach, even if it’s still not as popular with year-round residents.
“There’s an impact to long-term rentals and the quality of life for the mix of people who live full time in neighborhoods that have nothing but short-term rentals,” said Holman. “You have a turnover of people and that’s not always a great experience, so you just try to control and manage it as best as possible. But it’s also an important business model to the resort communities so you just try to find a balance.”
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