Summit County’s short-term rental regulations continue to come into focus ahead of first commissioner vote

Summit County’s short-term rental regulations continue to come into focus ahead of first commissioner vote
January 11, 2023

Summit County’s short-term rental regulations continue to come into focus ahead of first commissioner vote

Commissioners discussed exemptions to a short-term rental license cap ahead of a first reading and vote on the policy later this month

Jan 11, 2023

Robert Tann

Short-term rental properties in the Copper Mountain Resort village are pictured Aug. 13, 2021. For months, county commissioners have been debating how best to regulate these rental units amid concerns about housing supply and impacts to neighborhoods.
Ashley Low/Summit Daily News archive

The Summit Board of County Commissioners is forging ahead on a policy to regulate short-term rentals in areas outside city limits after it provided further direction to county staff — who are drafting the policy — during a Tuesday meeting.

The proposals build off a nearly nine-month-long process by commissioners to tame the short-term rental market — a growing agenda among lawmakers throughout the county who’ve passed short-term rental policies this past year.

Under the current policy proposed by commissioners as of Nov. 15, different areas of the county’s unincorporated areas would have a cap on the percentage of housing units which can be short-term rentals — ranging from 5% to 18% — though in all those areas the percentage of short-term rentals is currently above the proposed caps.

But according to Jessica Potter, a senior planner for the county’s planning department, the county has recently “lost short-term rentals licenses, whether it’s by attrition or people just not wanting to hold the license,” meaning it will likely be on track to hit the targeted caps proposed by commissioners within the coming years.

For example, the Lower Blue Basin — an area north of the town of Silverthorne — decreased from having about 19% of its homes hold short-term rental licenses in the middle of 2022 to 18% in late 2022. The commissioners’ cap for that area, if passed, would be 15% — about 550 licenses — by 2025.

Commissioners are also considering a slew of exemptions for the caps which they discussed with Potter during Tuesday’s meeting.

Those include allowing what staff have defined as a qualified occupant (someone who lives full-time in the county and works at least 30 hours in the county or is retired in the county) to rent out a certain amount of the rooms in their primary home for an unlimited number of nights. To qualify for this, homeowners would need to be living in their home while renting out bedrooms.

The county’s planning commission had considered opening that exemption up to most primary homeowners, even if they are not a member of the county’s workforce. But commissioners were against that provision.

“Are we talking about someone who retired, say from Texas, and now this is their primary occupancy but then they spend five months a year back at their other home?” said Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence shortly before commissioners decided against opening the exemption up to retirees or anyone not working in the county.

Another exemption commissioners agreed on was to allow for those qualified occupants to rent out up to half the rooms in their home — up to three bedrooms — for up to 60 nights if they choose to not live in the home full-time. The draft policy would also allow for homeowners living in accessory dwelling units — smaller units on a property — to apply for a short-term rental license for their main home.

But the most debated policy change among commissioners was to not abolish the limit on how many nights a property can be rented for most short-term rental license holders — which is currently 135 nights.

Potter said the county’s planning commission had supported removing that limit and added the goal of the overall regulation is “really to disincentivize sort of that investment-only, short-term rental,” which Potter said is when homeowners use short-term renting as their primary form of income.

“I believe that with the regulations, we’re already disincentivizing that with the (license) caps,” Potter said, adding that a limit on nights is harder to enforce.

But commissioners felt conflicted about doing away with a limit on nights a unit is allowed to be rented, which Lawrence said could have a negative impact on neighborhoods.

I “have to put myself in the shoes of someone who lives next door to a disruptive (short-term rental),” she said. “I’m not saying all (short-term rentals) are — it’s a small minority and isn’t that the case for everything.

“I think the nightly limit does provide some sort of boundaries and security,” Lawrence continued, adding that it was important to ask of short-term rentals, “are these homes or are these hotels?”

While commissioners agreed with Lawrence, concern rose around how to enforce such a policy. Commissioner Tamara Pogue said she felt uneasy about doing so given that there is no explicit guidance on this from the state legislature.

Commissioner Josh Blanchard said he’s “optimistic that if not this legislative cycle, the next legislative cycle there could be some tools introduced to enforce this.” But he also said it may take more action from commissioners to ensure county staff have the ability to enforce night limits.

“If we need to increase staff, if we need to invest in more software,” Blanchard said, “I’m in full support of figuring out a way to do this right.”

Commissioners ultimately agreed to keep the 135-night limit, though they said that limit could change before the final policy is adopted.

The first reading for the regulations is slated for Jan. 24. The policy will have to pass two readings before it is approved.