Romer: What are the right regulations for short-term rentals?

Workforce housing has been identified as the top public policy across the Mountain West. We know that housing is a foundational challenge to our community workforce challenges and the livability of Eagle County.

Studies including the Mountain Migration Report and Regional Workforce Housing Report have been conducted in recent years. Many communities have taken a more active role regarding short-term rentals; local communities including Vail, Avon and Minturn have taken active regulatory roles and are exploring additional rules and regulations.

Outside magazine has a compelling article titled “How to Save a Ski Town” that frames the impacts of short-term rentals in ski town communities. The author stresses what we already know: This isn’t a local issue. The housing crunch for locals is an issue across the Rocky Mountain West.

From the article: “It was so hard to find affordable housing in town that there weren’t enough people left to work in town. The headlines popped up all summer long:

“Housing in Jackson: Is This a Crisis?”

Support Local Journalism

“Ketchum Has Plenty of Available Jobs but Workers Can’t Afford Housing”

“Tahoe’s Hiring Crisis Unraveling the Region’s Small Businesses”

The question for our local municipalities and county governments is straightforward: do we believe that STRs negatively impact workforce housing stock and if so, how can we impact this? Is it appropriate to create a more active regulatory environment for STRs?

We believe it is important for our local towns and other regulatory agencies to balance the following goals: Retain long-term rental supply; protect the integrity and culture of residential neighborhoods; provide guests with a mix of accommodation options; respect property rights of current and future STR owners.

The answer isn’t straightforward. Achieving these goals requires a nuanced and balanced approach. One-size-fits-all solutions will inherently be inequitable to a large segment of the market and are likely to negatively impact both our residential communities and our tourism economy.

Part of the answer might be zoning. The creation of zoning districts that recognize private property rights while maintaining our visitor bed base and protecting the character of our residential neighborhoods is an intriguing possible solution. Our towns and county should consider zoning limitations (short-term/tourism district overlays) in our traditional resort core areas with “status quo” STR rules and regulations. Non-resort core areas could be zoned as residential with additional fees (Ouray’s excise tax is worth exploring) with funding earmarked for workforce housing programs.

There are some easy steps to take if the goal of STR regulations is to protect residential neighborhoods (and not become a simple money grab from the government), balance property rights, and maintain our bed base for visitors. The county and our towns should require local contacts for all STRs, require notification on STR listings indicating “rental is located in a residential neighborhood” for non-tourism district rentals, require a business license and STR license in unincorporated Eagle County (including fees to off-set staff time), and enforce sales tax collection for STR units. Towns and counties should only license rentals with proof of sales tax remission and should earmark sales tax and licensing fees generated by STR to fund an incentive pool to encourage a shift from short-term to long-term rentals.

Professionally managed vacation rentals — especially those in our resort core — are simply not creating or adding to our workforce housing challenges. New fees and taxes on short-term rentals must be managed in an appropriate manner that addresses the issues at hand and does not cause unintended consequences. One-size fits all solutions to this issue are likely to create more problems than they solve.

Support Local Journalism