County may allow nightly rentals
July 19, 2011
In the Scanloch subdivision in the Three Lakes Area, neighbors have been bothered by a vacation rental.
An individual reportedly purchased a property as a commercial venture, neighbors say, and ever since has been operating the home like one would a motel.
Rotating visitors stay for only a few days at a time, and they generally create parking, noise, and safety problems to others in the neighborhood, residents say.
“Our residential zoning is now commercial or business zoning,” testified Scanloch neighbor Earle Howard during a July 13 Grand County Planning Commission meeting on the issue of short-term rentals. “I don’t understand how zoned residential can become zoned commercial without a public voting process.”
Howard said he and his wife bought their Grand County home with the understanding it was in a purely residential neighborhood.
“He lives down in Denver, and he has no person for renters to go to for problems,” Howard said of his neighbor. “And so we collectively become his agent for his renters’ problems.”
If the Scanloch subdivision had a homeowners association, the practice of nightly rentals could be prohibited. But residents of the subdivision have been reluctant to create an HOA for fear of over-zealous covenant-making, said Scanloch resident Jeff Greene.
And because the county’s zoning laws lack teeth for such concerns, bad-apple property owners have little reason to stop renting out properties since their gain outweighs any penalties.
While the practice of renting out properties has become common practice in the county, it’s these situations that have brought the issue to light.
From several public meetings on the county’s planning level since December, opening up homes to vacation renters in residential neighborhoods may become legal, pending a decision by the Board of Grand County Commissioners.
As it stands, renting out homes on a short-term-basis to vacationers is not permitted in the estate, residential and mobile home districts under Grand County’s zoning, although county officials have long turned a blind eye to the practice.
But some neighbors to short-term rental properties, like Howard and Greene, are fed up with problems that sometimes come along with commercial-like uses.
The county has been studying several regulatory options for how to enforce zoning without choking what has been deemed a major economic engine in the community.
The process had involved various interest groups, such as property owners, neighbors, property management companies and Realtors.
In a 7-1 decision at the July 13 planning commission meeting, committee members chose to nix a proposed permitting program as part of future regulation of such rentals. Such a program is in place in the town of Grand Lake and requires an annual $400 license fee.
Instead, the planning commission has opted to allow such rentals in all zones free of permits. But as a condition of this proposal, owners of properties could be subject to a long list of requirements – factors concerning safety, noise, garbage, lighting, parking, snow storage, HOA approval, liability, occupancy, signs, taxes, contacts – that would be inserted into the county’s zoning regulations and would affect all dwellings throughout the unincorporated county.
For violations of any of these requirements, the commission is proposing a three-strikes approach: A written warning would be issued to the owner of the property for the first violation along with a copy of the regulations and the requirement that a 24-hour rental contact be provided to neighboring property owners; a $500 fine would be the penalty for the second violation; and a summons to court would be the violation for the third violation.
Neighbors to properties in effect would be surveyors of rentals by calling in violations to the Grand County planning department.
Rental Manager Kristine Meyer of Destinations West called this proposal “the best” of proposed solutions.
“It keeps things simple without going overboard,” she said. “And it provides means for the county staff to address concerns.”
Meyer applauded the county planners for considering an option that excludes requiring licenses or permits.
Adding regulations to the zoning code is “Less expensive, less cumbersome and really targets the difficult homeowners that aren’t being responsible,” Meyer said.
But Howard feared making the practice legal surrenders homeowner protections and makes Grand County’s residential neighborhoods vulnerable.
“Real-estate agents no longer have to be coy about whether a purchaser is permitted to rent his residential property,” Howard said. “Simply now, they could answer ‘yes you can,’ and that opens the floodgates.”
– Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603