Rental issue rises again

City leery of revisiting contentious vacation home ordinance


— Steamboat Springs City Councilman Jon Quinn calls reopening the debate about vacation home rentals "a scary proposition."

Quinn made his comment at a Jan. 22 City Council meeting at which the majority of council members said they did not want to address the controversial issue, despite the identification of steps that could be taken to improve the city's existing policies.

"I don't want to open that now because we've got some other things we need to do," Councilman Steve Ivancie said Tuesday. "We just aren't prepared to discuss it at this time."

The issue goes to the heart of a tourism-related industry that for years has fueled clashes between homeowners and property managers. Members of the newly seated City Council appear just as torn on the issue as the broader community. The city also is finding enforcement difficult, while at least one vacation rental owner is so fed up that he plans to sell his property.

At the Jan. 22 meeting, Director of Planning and Community Development Tom Leeson provided a "progress report" on the vacation home rental ordinance adopted in August by the previous City Council. The ordinance was the subject of quasi-judicial hearings and numerous lengthy meetings in 2006 and 2007. It replaced a similarly contentious 2001 ordinance with one slightly more demanding on vacation rental owners and operators.

Leeson recommended the City Council allow a change to the submittal requirements for vacation rental site plans. But when it came to tweaking the ordinance's requirement for an access agreement, Leeson advised the City Council against opening that "can of worms."

"That was a major sticking point in the drafting of this ordinance," Leeson said.

Vacation home rentals are residential homes that are rented to short-term vacationers and sometimes used for private functions. Owners and operators were previously required to get their neighbors' agreement to an access agreement for such homes. The new ordinance is much more stringent in that it requires the consent of all owners whose properties must be passed on private roads to access a vacation home.

Council differences

In addition to the public disagreement the issue would surely draw, there likely would be plenty of divisiveness among council members as well.

Councilman Scott Myller said vacation home rentals are just one of the drawbacks that citizens of a resort town must accept and noted their importance to the local economy.

"I will support vacation home rentals until I'm blue," Myller said.

At the other end of the spectrum, Quinn said he "would prefer to draw the line more harshly" and totally disallow anything but long-term rentals.

"What we've done is put this mechanism in place to encourage second-home ownership," Quinn said. "I think our neighborhoods should be our neighborhoods and our commercial districts should be our commercial districts."

Such disagreements will mean little, of course, unless the political will is mustered to actually confront the issue. Councilwoman Cari Hermacinski has hopes that the council will do just that.

"When the past City Council passed the last ordinance, they said they would revisit it and revisit it often because it was such a contentious issue," Hermacinski said Tuesday. "I would definitely go there."

Hermacinski said the ordinance has put additional strains on vacation property owners and managers who are trying to abide by the city's policies, while doing little to crack down on those who continue to operate vacation rentals without a license.

"I support opening it up and making changes," Hermacinski said Tuesday. "We're rewarding the people who don't comply, and we're penalizing the people who do. That's not good policy."

Access and enforcement

Suzie Spiro, owner of Colorado Mountain Rentals, has addressed the City Council often in recent weeks about perceived problems with the vacation home rental ordinance. She said the issue proved so maddening for the owner of one property she manages, that he decided to sell the house and be done with it.

"He's very frustrated with the interpretation of the city and he's selling his house," Spiro said Wednesday.

Spiro said that in some instances, it is too difficult for owners and property managers to procure the access agreement required by the current ordinance. In the case of the owner who decided to sell, Spiro said the access agreement is excessive when a vacation home is located on a private road with 14 property owners who live all over the world.

Noting the problem of tracking down various property owners - and the fact that some will simply ignore such attempts - Hermacinski said she would be in favor of changing the access-agreement requirement so that after a period of time, the vacation home is allowed to operate "unless there is an affirmative objection from neighbors."

Spiro also is frustrated by the city's enforcement efforts - or lack thereof.

"What really burns me up is there are people out there renting and not paying their sales taxes," Spiro said. "That's not fair."

City officials acknowledge that enforcing vacation rental policies is a challenge but say they are taking steps to increase their efforts, which have remained complaint-based thus far. City Manager Alan Lanning said the Steamboat Springs Police Department and the public works and planning departments have begun meeting weekly to coordinate their efforts. Also, Leeson said his department would be adding an additional enforcement officer soon.

Lanning also has floated the idea of adding sales tax auditors to the city's finance department as a way to identify those who are not following the rules. Interim Director of Finance Bob Litzau said his staff already trolls newspaper ads and Web sites to cross-reference vacation-home listings with city records. If a home doesn't have a license, the owner is notified and asked to get one and to file past tax returns.


Martha D Young 9 years, 2 months ago

When a neighborhood is zoned "residential" what does that mean? Does it mean that commercial uses are allowed in that neighborhood? Apparently current and former city council members think that's true. I wonder how they'd feel if a noisy reception or other event, attended by numerous people arriving in numerous cars, took place next door to them. Is council concerned about the property values of homes owned by neighboring citizens being undermined by these so-called vacation rental homes? It doesn't seem so.


STEMBOATwannabe 9 years, 2 months ago

Your next door neighbor who is not a renter could also have a reception and many cars at their home.

Are you just worried that you may have a restaurant or Country Club next door?

A rental property might mean that you would actually have people in the house next door instead of it being vacant for several months a year. If you want to live where you don't have neighbors, there is a vast amount of property available with a 35 acre minimum.


trollunderthebridge 9 years, 2 months ago

Marthalee. You do realize that an owner can rent to as many people as they want year round, have a multitude of cars parked (or even abandoned) in the driveway and on a private street and neither the City nor you can do anything about that.


id04sp 9 years, 2 months ago

troller . . .

Actually, it is quite common for county ordinances, covenants and restrictions, etc., to limit the number of unrelated adults and children who can occupy a single residence. A "family" of first-degree relatives is different than having a dozen unrelated people living in the dwelling. Whether these apply in Routt County is something for other people to look up and enforce, or not.


skidevil 9 years, 2 months ago

I am just finishing a remodel on a 4bdrm/2ba just across Walton Creek Rd (zoned MR). The HOA allows for short term rentals. It is not a large (1194 sqft) four bedroom, but it easily accommodates 8-10 people in beds (not couches or floors). If I was to get a license with the city they would limit me to renting it to 5 people/night. Just across the street (zoned RR). They can rent a 300 sq foot studio to as many people they can cram in there. They don't need to be licensed. No fees, no enforcement etc. If I live in my unit and rent out the rooms (B&B style) I can do what ever I want. This does not make sense at all and it needs to be fixed. It is not the short term renters causing problems in my condo complex. It is the long term rentals to 19-35 year old self proclaimed "ski bums" dealing drugs, smoking, littering, throwing parties etc.


andymanout 9 years, 2 months ago

"Scary" is the right word.

Stop the rentals and a potentially significant source of revenue vanishes.

Allow them to pop up anywhere and you destroy the Steamboat we all know.

As with any situatiuon where commercial interest (dollars) conflict with the local interest.

It is the dollars that win the day.

We have a demand for private residence rentals This demand will be filled by ligitimate or unauthorized renters. As long as this demand is there oportunistic home owners will offer a supply. The sad fact is, the local long term residents will have to contend with this activity.

What do the neighbors that live three door down from one of these residences get for their trouble? Remember, these are the voting residents. Do they deserve anything?

How far can we expect investor/operators to bend in order to do business. These people made these purchases with the idea of them being profitable. Shall we hand over all of the rental revenues to the corporate resort owners. Some of these owners are locals too.

This is a question that needs to be addressed. The debate is not some thing to be pushed off indeffinately.

Our city council needs to face their fears. Look at the issue, make some hard decisions and deal with this.


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