Steven McCrane bought a retirement home in Estes Park several years ago and spends as much time there as possible. The rest of the year, he rents out his house as a short-term rental through VRBO.
He pays sales tax and lodging tax every night his house is rented.
McCrane’s home is one of 333 vacation homes and 29 short-term rentals in the Estes Valley registered with Larimer County, many of which are in residential areas. Hundreds more are registered within the city limits of Estes Park.
Now the county is considering changes to short-term rental policies, and McCrane says those changes will make it harder for landlords like him to make money on his property. Some of the changes apply to the Estes Valley, where the bulk of the county’s short-term rentals are located. And some apply to Larimer County outside the Valley.
None of the proposed changes apply to homes inside the city limits, but the county is working with Estes Park to see if the two can find commonalities between the two sets of rules and standards.
“It’s not uncommon for different jurisdictions to have different sets of standards,” said Lesli Ellis, Larimer County’s director of community development.
The proposed changes are still in draft form and could change, said Larimer County senior planner Tawn Hillenbrand. Residents have until December 14 to provide feedback.
As written, however, the new regulations could reduce the number of rental nights to 135 for small, short-term rentals, cap the number of short-term rentals allowed in certain areas, eliminate license transferability, and increase inspection requirements.
Hillenbrand said the county hears neighbors’ confusion and concerns about ordinances and enforcement and acknowledged that some of the review standards aren’t as clear or objective as they could be, particularly as it relates to regarding access, security and neighborhood compatibility.
The county hopes to address the trends “in a way that aligns with county goals and values before it becomes an issue,” Hillenbrand said.
This year, the City of Estes Park received 103 complaints about short-term rentals, including complaints about noise, litter and illegal rentals. Larimer County has received 32 complaints, most about short-term rentals operating without county approval, according to county officials.
The county has a three strikes policy in place, which means that if a short-term rental has three separate violations, its operating license will be revoked. So far, no revocations have taken place, Hillenbrand said. It took three years to bring landowners into compliance, including sending letters to those illegally operating short-term rentals, Hillenbrand said.
The county has several dozen short-term rental applications in progress and is seeing an increase in applications, Hillenbrand said.
Greg Rosener, president of the Estes Valley Short Term Rental Alliance, EVSTRA, said the county’s proposals amount to a “war” on vacation rentals in the Estes Valley.
“I don’t know why this is being pushed by the county,” said Rosener, who complained that commissioners have denied recent requests for additional short-term rental properties.
Ellis acknowledged that the county has denied some recent requests, some due to neighbors’ concerns about compatibility and density, and there are concerns about the growing number of short-term rentals in neighborhoods and the impact they will have on the neighborhood or security.
Any new regulations passed will allow for grandfathering, from the perspective “that they might exist and not have to go through the process again,” Ellis said. The exception would be if a re-registration process were adopted requiring landlords to periodically re-register their tenancy or tenancies and let the county know “that they are still the landlord and are still using it as a short-term rental “.
License transferability is an issue for owners
Many Colorado jurisdictions restrict the transfer of licenses in one form or another, Ellis said. But the inability of tenant landlords to transfer their short-term rental license to their children is a major concern. Many of them hope to bequeath their property to their children as a source of income.
In 2006, Gary Naifeh bought a cabin two blocks from downtown Estes in hopes it would generate retirement income and one day do the same for his four children.
“Why our kids have to go to the back of the line when I die doesn’t make sense to me,” he said.
Although the proposed county regulations would not apply to him because his cabin is in Estes Park, he is concerned that the definitions and established precedents “may at some point in the future migrate and impact me.” .
If the 135-night cap was in place and he had already rented it for 132 nights but someone wanted to rent it for two weeks, the rental should be denied, he said. “If my cabin rents for $1 a night, let’s just say, and I can’t rent it for two weeks, they just took $14 out of my pocket. »
Naifeh wants county commissioners to listen to people who rent and not just people who don’t particularly like renters. He wants them to take their time with the changes and do it right rather than feeling pressured into a certain date, he said.
The county has already extended the comment period from late November to December 14 in an effort to ensure everyone has a chance to weigh in, Ellis said.
“From our perspective, we’re trying to give people enough time to give feedback,” she said. “There is no rush on our side. We want to make sure we get it right.”
Impact on tourism
EVSTRA supports the extension of the 3.5% Lodging Tax recently passed by the Estes Park Marketing District to the Local Marketing District, which will provide funding for workforce housing and childcare, two significant issues in the expensive tourist town.
New short-term rental regulations could reduce that funding, Rosener said, by reducing the number of rental nights available. “I don’t know why the county wants to do something that will hurt the Estes Park area,” he said, and extending the tax would have led to funding “that he never has. seen before”.
Rosener argues that tourists interested in coming to the area will go elsewhere if short-term rentals are limited or reduced. There are not enough hotel beds in town to accommodate the number of visitors interested in staying in town, he said.
“Our customers have decided that hotels aren’t their preference,” he said. “If they can’t stay here, they’ll go somewhere else.”
Naifeh agreed that “people who come to my cabin would not stay in a hotel. It’s a family or two or three couples, and they want to stay together. It costs more to go to a hotel, and a hotel does not meet their needs,” he said.
“Why limit my cabin rental to a time of year that is least desirable for people to come to Estes Park?” He asked. “We should want to encourage people to come to Estes Park and rent off peak hours. People will come and spend money, go to the restaurant downtown, and retailers will make money. That’s a cattywampus in my logic.”
Ellis said there was not enough data to verify a loss of revenue or tourism. “Some of the numbers show a mix of revenue that can come from hotels, campgrounds, other accommodations and bed and breakfasts; hotels are the main source of that revenue at about 75%. It looks like the numbers for B&Bs and those types of accommodations are a much smaller part of the mix.”
There are no proposals to ban short-term rentals, but there could be a reduction in revenue if there are fewer nights, Ellis said. But in the scheme of things, it seems like a small amount, he said.
Kara Franker, CEO of Visit Estes Park, said the organization has not yet determined “how we believe Larimer County’s proposed STR regulations will affect Visit Estes Park’s lodging tax collections in “Many of our STR stakeholders in our district have expressed their concerns and we are in the process of conducting our own legal and financial analysis.”
In 2021, Visit Estes Park collected $1.36 million in lodging taxes from visitors staying in short-term rentals in the Estes Park Local Marketing District, Franker said. That’s 39% of its total hosting collections.
“It’s fair to say that STR lodging tax collections are a significant part of our budget,” Franker said. “And it’s imperative that we do our due diligence on how the county’s proposed regulations might affect not only our budget, but also the potential funds that might be raised” with the passage of the lodging tax.
City of Estes Park rental complaints, by the numbers
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