Short-term rental regulations present challenges for Grand County government
March 2, 2017
You cannot live in the high country for very long without coming to realize the growing contention that surrounds short-term rental properties.
Sometimes referred to as VRBOs (Vacation Rental By Owner), AirBnBs, vacation rentals or simply short-term rentals (STRs), over the past several years the significance of these unique housing accommodations has taken on a more prominent place in our government discussions. Earlier this week on Tuesday Feb. 28, the Grand County Board of County Commissioners held a discussion on a series of proposed changes to how the county regulates and oversees short-term rentals.
Currently Grand County has few regulations overseeing such properties. Currently, owners of these properties are required to register with the county and pay a $20 annual fee. County community development director Bill Gray said the fee basically covers the county's costs for mailing invoices to short-term rental owners, but does not provide funding to allow the county to enforce the regulations associated with the rentals.
by the numbers
Gray said there are roughly 300 short-term rentals registered with the county. He estimated there are roughly 3,000 of them countywide, including those governed by the municipalities of Grand County. Gray estimated there are a total of about 700 to 1,000 of them in unincorporated Grand County. "We have some rogue STRs," Gray said.
Gray largely framed the discussion in terms of enforcement and nuisance issues.
"We have had issues with parking, trash, noise, special events," he said. "There are short-term rentals with no driveway or parking and the people had to be on a county road. In our code, it says no on street parking for this use. If we had an upfront check we might have eliminated some of those nuisance problems."
Gray highlighted his belief that issues with short-term rentals in Grand County followed the 80/20 rule, most owners are responsible and follow the rules, but a small percentage some don't.
Gray outlined a number of potential changes to the county's regulations, including changing the registration program to a permitting program, increasing the fee from $20 to potentially as much as $600.
On Wednesday afternoon, Gray stressed the proposals are not "set in stone" and nothing formal has been decided.
"This is in draft form, for public input and discussion," he said. "We are trying to pull all of that together and use that to help us finalize the actual code amendments."
Gray said the county is hoping to get the any changes ironed out this spring and have the new regulations become effective sometime around the start of June.
Any new regulations passed by the county will impact only short-term rentals in unincorporated Grand County and will not impact how the municipalities of Grand County individually regulate within their own jurisdictions. Part of the impetus for reviewing the county's regulations is concern that an abundance of short-term rentals is having negative impacts on long-term rental options for non-property owning residents of the county.
Numerous County citizens were on hand for the discussion and expressed their opinions to the Board.
Robert Blay has owned a condominium management company for 35 years. He oversees management of roughly 1,200 homes and a vacation rental business of around 200 units, with about half of those in Grand County.
Blay said he supports the county's current regulations for short-term rentals and said he sees few problems related to them from the HOAs he oversees.
"Every once in a while a party gets a little loud," he said. "But that's not much different than homeowners using their own place."
Blay said the new regulations proposal made him feel like he was in the Twilight Zone or in Boulder or San Francisco. "It feels like anti-business regulation," Blay said.
Others, like Columbine Lake HOA homeowner Marilyn Binkley, supported the changes.
"In my personal opinion these initiatives would help our neighborhood a great deal," she said.
Georgia Noriyuki, with Noriyuki & Parker PC, spoke to the board on behalf of a client.
"Nobody wants to destroy short-term rentals here," she said. "But the long term residents of the county want this to be controlled so their investment in relatively expensive property is not destroyed and their ability to enjoy the peace and quiet is not destroyed; not just by parties and trash, but more significant impacts on infrastructure. Without destroying the short term rental business please keep in mind the rights of private property owners."
After listening to citizen comments, the commissioners spoke. Commissioner Rich Cimino started by quickly reviewing statistics related to housing units in Grand County. Cimino said the statistics he discussed were taken from a State of Colorado Demographer.
According to Cimino's data, there are a total of 16,209 housing units in all of Grand County. Of those, only 5,250 are occupied and approximately 11,000 housing units in the county are unoccupied. After removing houses listed for sale on the market and those sold but not occupied, Cimino said there are about 9,000 total housing units in Grand County that are expressly reserved for seasonal, recreational or occasional use. That segment includes short-term rentals and second homes used only by property owners that are not rented out.
Cimino also delved into tax rates for short-term rentals, another contentious topic. "We know roughly what the percent tax rate for residential properties is," said Ciminio. "It is about seven percent of assessed valuation. The commercial tax rate is 29 percent. I think it is clear that for some frequently used short-term properties, they are businesses in residential neighborhoods paying residential taxes."
Commissioner Merrit Linke discussed what he saw as a need for "balance" between private property rights and quality of life issues. He referred to problems with short-term rentals and specifically referenced parking and parties as areas of concern for local homeowners impacted by the rentals.
A specific decision on new regulations has not been made and the commissioners are asking citizens who are interested in participating in the ongoing discussion contact the Grand County Manager's Office to see how they can become more involved.