Opinion | Tony Jones: The dilemma for local short-term rental owners
Short-term rentals are once again a hot topic in Summit County, as shown in the letters to the editor of the Summit Daily News over the last few months. The renewed conversation on this follows a tax hike on this industry that went into effect in January, and as usual, folks have split into factions. Short-term rental owners and those representing industries dependent on them are on one side and “locals” are on the other side. Based on an informal analysis I’ve done of published letters to the editor over the last two months, there have been twice as many writers pushing back against increasing the regulation of this industry compared to those in support of greater regulation. It remains an issue where locals understandably lament traffic, noise and parking issues due to short-term rental guests, while short-term rental owners lament the loss of property rights and income.
Several letter writers in support of the industry cite data that doesn’t necessarily deny that there are problems with individual guests or owners but does illustrate that those issues aren’t as widespread as regulators and locals would have us believe. They have also raised questions about the level of effort that regulators have put into their regulatory decision making. Pro short-term rental regulation letter writers have provided anecdotal evidence that issues are widespread enough to justify the regulations being implemented.
One might wonder why the short-term rental industry is seemingly losing the battle in Summit County. The favorable financial impact that this industry has on the county is undeniable, as has been shown in previous government data and industry reports. And while some who critique the industry paint it as an issue with corporate and foreign real estate businesses acting as unengaged absentee landlords, that’s glossing over the fact that many short-term rental owners are in fact fellow Coloradans.
This includes Coloradans who, while living elsewhere in the state, have invested in Summit County real estate for their own personal usage and enjoyment of the area, while renting occasionally to leverage that real estate investment financially. It’s also Coloradans who have lived in Summit County for decades and have purchased property elsewhere but don’t want to relinquish their beloved mountain homes. This latter group is often comprised of older folks who have bought that second home outside of Summit County to be nearer their children and grandchildren.
So, let’s understand who these short-term rental owners really are before we start dehumanizing them as greedy and uncaring corporate business entities. If there is an issue with corporate short-term rental owners, perhaps regulations should be crafted more precisely to target those instead of using a sledgehammer approach that adversely affects all owners, including those who do no harm to the community.
The disregard of regulators and Summit County voters for the property rights of short-term rental owners is reflected in the sin tax treatment the industry has received. As with cigarettes, alcohol and weed, high taxes are levied on the short-term rental industry to address the “harm” it causes. Short-term rental owners are also being denied the right to weigh in on the Summit County 2023 Housing Survey. The website for that survey dictates that would-be respondents who “own seasonal or vacation properties that you occupy occasionally, or own long- or short-term rentals, in Summit County” are not eligible to take the survey. Ironically, the line above that prohibition states that if you “Live, are retired, work, and/or work remotely, in Summit County” you are eligible to participate in the survey. The double standard is evident in that many short- and long-term rental owners do in fact live in, and/or are retired in and/or work remotely in Summit County.
If you’re a short-term rental owner, what is one to do? It seems letter writing and attending council meetings aren’t helping much. Perhaps that’s because many second-home owners aren’t registered to vote in Summit County, despite having significant investments here and paying taxes that fund everything from schools to workforce housing and the salaries of our local service industry workers. Local elected officials can afford to ignore the appeals of these taxpayers, in person and at the ballot box, because only Summit County registered voters have the right to weigh in on whether to keep these government representatives in their jobs and/or increase regulation against the industry on the ballot.
Does this ring a bell historically? The old taxation without representation thing? Well, there’s an option other than throwing crates of tea in Dillon Reservoir for second home owners. By changing the address of your voter registration to your Summit County address, you become a voter in the county. This of course requires that you live or have property in Summit County. Also, in doing so, you will lose your ability to vote in the county that you were previously registered in (presumably where your primary residence is). To this latter issue, though, if you have a significant other who is also registered to vote in your original county, they can remain as such, splitting your household vote across both jurisdictions, reflecting the financial stakes you have in both.
Short-term rental owners could better exercise their political muscle by registering to vote in Summit County and organizing politically to ensure their voices are heard. This may be the best way to make sure their concerns are heeded in this property rights debate that is raging here and across the country.
Tony Jones' column "Everything in Moderation" publishes biweekly on Thursdays in the Summit Daily News. Jones is a veteran of the IT industry and has worked in the public and private sectors. He lives part-time in Summit County and Denver. Contact him at email@example.com.
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