A divided Colorado Springs City Council voted Thursday to impose new regulations on short-term rentals that owners say generate additional income and more tourist dollars, but also have caused friction with their neighbors.
The council voted 5-4 to approve the new provisions, adding to a set of rules that the council passed last fall to regulate rooms and homes rented out through online platforms such as Airbnb and VRBO, or Vacation Rentals By Owner.
Under the new rules, a rental that a property owner inhabits for less than 185 days annually will be considered “nonowner occupied.” Rentals classified as such will not be allowed in single-family residential or single-family planned unit development zoning districts. In other zoning districts, nonowner occupied units will have to be separated by 500-foot buffers.
Owners of already permitted short-term rentals will be “grandfathered in” and won’t be subject to the new rules as long as they renew their permits annually before the expiration date, city planning officials said.
Councilman David Geislinger and other council members who supported the new rules stressed the need to proactively strengthen the city’s regulations to prevent negative impacts on neighborhoods.
“We need to take a step forward. We cannot kick the can down the road,” Geislinger said.
The short-term rental industry also takes up units that the city “desperately” needs to address its housing crisis, said Councilwoman Yolanda Avila, who supported the changes.
Council members Jill Gaebler, Richard Skorman, Andy Pico and Wayne Williams cast the “no” votes.
Pico said the additional rules infringed on the rights of private property owners, and Skorman called the regulations “too restrictive.”
The decision followed a few hours of testimony from more than two dozen people, many of whom were short-term rental owners opposed to the new rules.
Airbnb and VRBO owners touted the economic benefits of the short-term rental industry, from the owners who rely on income from the rentals to the money that tourists spend in the city while staying in them.
Having units in single-family residential zones allows visitors “to come to Colorado Springs and live like a local,” said Kilian Gordon, who works for a short-term rental property management company.
But others said short-term rentals that aren’t owner-inhabited disturb neighborhoods with high turnover rates.
Joan Markley, who lives near several short-term rentals, said the properties bring “strangers” to the area, creating issues with traffic and safety.
“As long-term homeowners, we have rights, too,” Markley told the council.
Last year, the council passed two ordinances that defined short-term rentals, applied city regulations to them and charged property owners $119 a year for a permit.
Since then, the city has issued nearly 1,300 permits. Roughly 200 of those permits are held by people who have rentals in single-family residential zoning districts and don’t occupy those properties, according to city data.
The city has confirmed 75 violations at short-term rentals, 56 of which were for rentals without permits. The other infractions were related to issues such as traffic, parking, noise and weeds or other blight, city data shows.
“What are we trying to protect our neighborhoods from?” Gaebler questioned before the vote. “We seem to be demonizing people who just want to earn some revenue.”
Other cities in Colorado and beyond have instituted requirements for short-term rentals related to density and owner-occupancy. Manitou Springs requires that the units be separated by at least 500 feet. Denver requires that a rental be a property owner’s primary residence.
Colorado Springs’ new rules, slated to take effect before the end of the year, must still be passed on second reading by the council this month.
The regulations include an exception allowing active-duty service members who are ordered to report to a temporary duty station outside El Paso County the ability to rent out their homes for a year.
Someone who wishes to establish a nonowner occupied unit in a zoning district where it’s not permitted may also apply for a use variance. A public hearing would then be held, and the planning commission would approve the variance request if certain criteria were met, according to city planning officials.
The council also recently approved a law that limits maximum overnight occupancy of each short-term rental unit to two occupants per bedroom, plus an additional two occupants per dwelling unit. Under that law, the maximum occupancy per dwelling unit is 15 occupants.