Grand County opens door to nightly rental policy
Grand County, CO Colorado
For the Greene residence, life near a nightly rental property is damaging neighborly relations.
One of the Greenes’ absentee neighbors advertises his property on a popular rentals-by-owner website, according to Mike Greene, and doesn’t have the basic services necessary to accommodate guests, such as telephone service, trash service and a parking plan.
“His renters have asked the neighbors to borrow tools, cooking utensils, and Internet services,” the Greenes wrote in an email to the Grand County Planning Department. And, having learned from renters last summer, the neighbor at least once directed renters to throw their trash into a grocery store Dumpster, Mike Greene said during a Dec. 7 county workshop.
“Our safety and quality of life is being harmed by a few abusers,” they wrote in their email to the county, asking for more government involvement in a problem that has redefined the “residential” living experience.
“At one time we saw 27 renters (four families with kids) in the 1,100 square-foot cabin,” the Greenes informed the county. “The small residential homes and lots in our neighborhood were not intended for these kinds of groups.”
The Greenes are not alone.
Nightly rentals – properties rented out to guests staying less than 30 days – are widespread throughout the county, even in the county’s residential zone where such uses are technically against county zoning codes.
County Planner Kris Manguso said she found at least 210 unincorporated Grand County properties listed on a Vacation Rental By Owner website in just a one-hour’s search.
Yet because county officials have generally turned a blind eye to such uses for years, people like the Greenes are usually defenseless in seeing that neighborhood abuses are addressed – like noise, excess parking, unattended trash and limited access to a local contact who can attend to guest needs.
But that could change, depending on the outcome of a recently initiated regulatory review of nightly rentals in the county.
On Dec. 7, Grand County Commissioners gave the directive to have the subject of nightly rentals reviewed by the planning commission.
If it sees fit, the county planning commission may recommend one or more solutions, such as a nightly rental licensing program similar to Grand Lake’s, enforcement through webcrawler software similar to Fraser and Winter Park, more attention to nightly rentals through a special use permit application process, or a combination of any of these.
Property Manager Tim Hartman of Allegiant Management of Winter Park, a company that manages as many as 200 rental properties from Winter Park to Granby, finds that irresponsible renters/owners outside of management firms can give bad impressions of Grand County.
“It brings down the level of service they’re providing,” he said during the Dec. 7 county workshop about the issue. “Nobody is checking them in, nobody is helping them if the toilet is backed up. It gives a bad reputation and hurts the outlook on the community.”
Hartman, like the Greenes, encourages Grand County officials to review its enforcement on nightly landlords who shirk taxing and management responsibilities, thus undercutting the “honest” nightly rental owners who do pay taxes and offer basic services to guests.
Grand County Clerk and Recorder Sara Rosene always endeavors to turn in to the state names of nightly rental advertisers who do not pay proper taxes, she said. The state can then enforce sales-tax laws by way of auditing offenders, but the state can sometimes be slow, so enforcement may sometimes fall through the cracks, she said.
Meanwhile, if the county assessor knows a property is being used for commercial gain, the assessor may assess the personal property of that home or unit, according to County Assessor Tom Weydert. But half the battle is knowing who is in this category, he said.
The benefit of nightly rentals
Carol Goscha, owner of a nightly rental in Grand Lake and employed at Grand Mountain Rental, applauds the Town of Grand Lake for having legalized and regulated nightly rentals in residential neighborhoods by way of its licensing program.
And Grand Lake’s model is being eyed by Grand County officials.
For many, the ability to rent out a home on a nightly basis keeps homes in ownership and out of foreclosure.
And homes that would otherwise be empty for parts of the year are filled with guests through vacation rentals.
“That brings tourists,” Goscha said. “People who spend money at the shops, the restaurants and on recreation.”
And county commissioners appear to recognize that nightly rentals also create jobs, through cleaning services and property management.
The way Grand Lake’s program works, nightly rental owners in the residential zone pay a $400 annual fee and one-time administration fee of $150. Letters are sent out asking for comment from neighbors within 100 feet of the potential nightly rental property. If no comments are shared with the town within 15 days, the license is issued. If there are comments, the application enters a public hearing process, and the town board ultimately decides if a license will be issued, sometimes with added conditions.
Through the years, the number of licenses that have come before the board have dwindled as more citizens become familiar with the program, according to Grand Lake Code Enforcement Officer Dan Korkowski. As many as 92 nightly rentals are licensed through the town of Grand Lake. Another two nightly rentals allowed in the town’s commercial zone require $165 annual business licenses.
Korkowski automatically renews licenses annually “as long as there have not been justifiable complaints against the property,” he said.
Grand Lake, he added, hasn’t had a justifiable complaint in two years.
“Homeowners and property owners have been very diligent about making sure they don’t have issues on their property.”
Through this licensing program, the town requires proof of trash removal, requires a local contact to address guest needs, reviews a parking plan and addresses any other concerns.
Grand Lake collects about $37,000 a year from nightly rental licenses, money that serves to fund new special events in Grand Lake and to attract more tourism, Korkowski said. The town also gains added sales tax from property owners who may have not been paying it before.
If the county were to adopt a similar system, Manguso estimates the program would generate at least $83,000 in licensing, enough to hire a county code enforcement officer to help run the program. Special permitting of nightly rentals could generate similar amounts of revenue.
Another solution planning commissioners may consider is using software that crawls the Internet searching for vacation rental advertisements and cross-referencing the information with existing databases of short-term rental properties. This solution would be geared more toward the tax collection of nightly rentals.
And another county option would be to simply continue “as is.”
But that may not solve problems for people such as the Greenes.
“I bet you a dinner,” Mike Greene said of his absentee neighbor. “If he needed to go before a licensing board, he’d be much more cooperative with his neighbors than he is now.”
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