Berenson: Please put the ’neighbor’ back in ’neighborhood,’ Eagle County
Three years ago, I wrote a piece for this paper about the negative impact short-term rentals have on EagleVail. These unregulated hotels disguised as homes, often purchased by remote investors, I wrote, drive up home prices, further exacerbate our already limited housing, and put groups of rotating vacationing strangers where permanent residents should be.
After it was published, several concerned neighbors found and thanked me. We formed a committee, researched what our surrounding communities do to protect their neighborhoods, drafted a proposal of oversight for EagleVail, and spoke to our POA on three separate occasions to ask for help actualizing it. Our (volunteer, overworked) POA has yet to act, and in the meantime, things in EagleVail have only gotten worse.
The myth — that short-term rentals are a fun way for mom and dad to make a little extra retirement money — is far from the reality. A 2021 study cited by the American Hotel and Lodge Association found that owner-occupied “Mom and Dad” homes comprise less than 20% of Airbnb’s business — 81% of its revenue comes from whole-unit rentals with non-present owners.
The number of multi-unit “hosts” (aka “unregulated chain hotel operators”) has more than doubled in the last year. Airbnb is classified as the world’s largest hotel company and, according to Business Insider, worth more than the three largest hotel companies in the world combined. Short-term rentals aren’t a hobby, they’re a massive business.
And by pretending these hotels are homes, this massive business slid under the radar and insinuated itself into residentially-zoned neighborhoods all over the world, destroying the fabric of communities in the process. Long-term housing became scarcer and more expensive to both rent and buy, resulting in fewer residents to work in local businesses, fewer families, fewer children and closed local schools.
In fact, a 2019 piece by the Economic Policy Institute found that the costs of short-term rentals on communities — from rising housing prices and lost tax revenue to depleted employee bases — far outweigh the benefits. Sometimes these costs are actual lives: from May of 2019 to March of 2021, there were 171 shootings at unregulated Airbnb “party houses” in the United States alone.
When my husband and I bought our home in our residentially zoned neighborhood nine years ago, we expected to live next to neighbors, not large groups of rotating strangers. Since we’ve lived here, two nearby homes have converted from long-term to short-term rentals, and four more were built by out-of-town owners to be used exclusively as Airbnb businesses.
Our home is now almost completely surrounded by vacationing strangers. When late-night parties wake us up, we’re supposed to call the police, who come and tell the drunken strangers to quiet down. The next day, those strangers go home and new ones arrive — lather, rinse, repeat.
The only people suffering the consequences of these violations are us neighbors. We’re woken up. We call the police. The partiers aren’t ticketed, the investors aren’t penalized, and we keep losing sleep, keep calling the sheriff, keep wishing for real neighbors instead of groups of shrieking drunken strangers, all while watching the neighborhood we invested in and love deteriorate into an unchecked commercial free-for-all.
As an unincorporated community, EagleVail has no local government. Our POA tells us to go to BOLD (the enforcement company we contract for 40 hours a month, no nights or weekends). BOLD tells us to call the police. The police come, and then they go. Nothing changes.
We need Eagle County’s help — and not just for EagleVail. To keep our entire county healthy, vibrant and as diverse as an exclusive resort area like ours can possibly be, we need forward-thinking planning and protections for every residential community here.
If Eagle County becomes a place where families can’t afford to live, where real people who work real jobs—teachers, nurses, doctors, ski instructors, restaurateurs, waiters, grocers, mechanics, veterinarians — can’t find homes and jobs, we cease to be a functioning community.
Yes, property owners have rights, but those rights aren’t limitless, and zoning laws exist for a reason. Property owners don’t have the right to turn homes into liquor stores, massage parlors or restaurants; they shouldn’t be allowed to turn them into hotels.
We need a county-wide designation of full-time short-term rentals as commercial businesses that belong in commercially-zoned areas. Please, Eagle County, keep our residentially-zoned communities residential, and put the “neighbor” back in “neighborhood.”
Madeleine Berenson is a ski instructor and writer whose pieces have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wine Spectator, and The MOTH podcast, among others. Her email address is email@example.com