Our view: Embracing vacation homes
June 7, 2014
We support the city of Steamboat Springs' ongoing efforts to regulate and tax vacation rentals of homes, apartments and condominiums in an even-handed way that puts everyone on equal footing.
That's in stark contrast to Routt County's antiquated and haphazard method of pretending it doesn't know that it has regulations that ban nightly rentals until someone complains. The county's approach could be summed up as: "If your neighbor complains that you are operating a nightly vacation home rental, we'll draft a letter threatening to take you to court. But if the homeowner a mile away is doing the same thing and we're oblivious, that's fine with us."
The county's recent affirmation of its stance that bans vacation rentals, even in neighborhoods where a majority of residents could theoretically prefer the freedom to do so, strikes us as being downright quaint.
The members of homeowners associations can gather at their annual homeowners association meetings and revisit their covenants if they choose to. If the county would just permit vacation rentals, collect the taxes and use a portion to enforce the new regulations, everyone might be better off.
If people weren't free to rent their homes to vacationers from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, to Seaside, Oregon, it wouldn't be possible to rent a beach home in America. The only option would be traditional hotel/motel rooms and stacked condos, when everyone wants to rent a cute beach bungalow.
As a practical matter, many Steamboat and Routt County residents already have learned that it can be the long-term tenants next door who create more of a disturbance than do people on vacation. There are long stretches of the calendar year when vacation homes are vacant and utterly peaceful.
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There are only a handful of neighborhoods in unincorporated Routt County like historic Hahn's Peak Village where the housing density is such that neighbors can actually disturb one another. Stagecoach would strike us as being ideal for vacation rentals that overlook a state park with a lake and a marina.
In other subdivisions, the neighbors are acres away. It's safe to say that many rural homes in the county will be enjoyed this summer by vacationers gathering for family reunions, and no one will be the wiser. Renting a home is the best way to gather the extended clan for week full of big family meals.
Why aren't we collecting lodging tax from them to help support emergency response in those lightly populated areas?
What is most striking to us is that county government seems to be unaware of the growing legions of people who are either supplementing their income or saving on vacation accommodations even in the most desirable of destinations by renting directly from one another on the Internet.
The Steamboat Pilot & Today reported this week that this summer's vacation rental activity in Denver and Boulder through the Web booking page Airbnb is up by 300 percent. One could dismiss that as an urban phenomenon, but we know better.
If you haven't visited Airbnb, it's a cross between a social media and a transactional site. Some Airbnb landlords rent entire Italian villas, others rent a one bedroom within a single-family home, or a carriage house apartment. The latter is the modern equivalent of a boarding house. Remember those?
The social media aspect of this method of booking vacation lodgings is that travelers have the option of being hosted by outgoing locals — like Routt County locals, in their homes. It's a different and rewarding way to travel.
The behavior of Airbnb tenants and landlords alike is held in check by the online review system on the property's Web page — everyone involved desires a good rating.
Perhaps someday, the question of whether or not to allow vacation rentals of private homes in Routt County outside of Steamboat Springs will be put to a vote of the people. In the meantime, keep your heads down and be extra nice to your neighbors.