City exploring annual licenses for short-term rentals |

City exploring annual licenses for short-term rentals

In 2021, AirBnBs, VRBOs and other nightly rentals might have to have a city license

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The city of Steamboat Springs plans to flesh out elements of a program that would require short-term rentals, such as units listed on Airbnb, are licensed in the city.

At its work session on Tuesday, Dec. 10, Steamboat Springs City Council directed city staff to pursue the following actions. Most of these recommendations were developed by an ad-hoc citizens’ committee that reviewed the topic earlier this year.

Creating an annual registration and license

City Council asked staff to pursue an annual license for all vacation units in the city. According to, a website that tracks market data about vacation rentals, there are 2,807 active rentals in the Steamboat market, which includes a handful of units outside of city limits around Stagecoach, Milner and the southern portion of the Elk River corridor.

In some areas of the city, zoning code does not allow vacation home rentals as a use without a vacation home rental permit. The owners and property managers of these units would be required to hold both the existing permit they should already have and the new license that’s under development. The vacation home rental permit process could see changes as the new program is developed, including the possibility of a one-time permit in place of the annual renewal that’s currently required.

The city would contract with a vendor that specializes in tracking, cross-referencing and enforcing city rules related to short-term rentals. Fees from the program would be expected to pay for the services a contractor or city staff member would provide.

City staff said this would allow the city to better address safety issues and collect data about sales tax, how many short-term rental units are in the city and reoccurring complaints.

Improved enforcement procedures

The citizens’ committee recommended inspections of short-term rentals every three to five years. City Council instead opted to pursue a self-inspection checklist at the time a permit is issued with random inspections throughout the year. This would likely require that rules about trash are posted in the unit and working smoke detectors are in place.

The change came as staff voiced concern about the staff time and feasibility of inspections on a set cycle. In the meeting, Planning and Community Development Director Rebecca Bessey said, to meet the goal of a five-year inspection cycle, staff would have to visit 700 units per year and 13 or 14 units per week on average. 

“Somebody may actually be coming on your property, so you should not be lying on your self inspection,” said Council Member Lisel Petis.

Some of the vendors the city will explore for the license process also offer services that could help with enforcement, such as a 24/7 complaint line which then routes calls to the police or planning department depending on the issue and time of day. City Council asked to see all the services these vendors provide to determine what services the city should hire them for.

Revising the city code

The citizens committee had also recommended two relatively minor tweaks to the code governing short-term rentals that addressed parking and set a limit for how many people can attend an indoor event at a rental unit.

People in public comment, city staff and City Council members expressed interest in a larger overhaul. One that might explore where short-term rentals are allowed.

“We seem to have gotten the cart in front of the horse on this,” said Chris Wening, speaking on behalf of the Caribou Run Homeowners Association. “The people who bought their houses and live here, did it to live in a residential neighborhood. We did not buy it to have a randomly appearing boutique hotel show up next to us. We don’t want that. No one wants that.”

He added that he rents Airbnbs elsewhere and loves them, “but in a resort part. Not in the community residential neighborhood part.”

Even before the floor opened to public comment, Bessey asked council to seek more public input to determine if more significant code changes were needed.

“I believe that there are some significant concerns in the community, and that there’s some additional public input and engagement we would want to have on this topic,” she said. “We would do a more thorough review of best practices, look at what other communities are doing and engage our community.”

That could include outreach online and through in-person town halls, Bessey said.

“People are concerned about protecting what I would call our traditional community neighborhoods,” said Council President Jason Lacy. “That’s really the focus of that discussion. It’s not the gondola zone. It’s not the resort residential zone. I would like to see what other communities are doing what are the best practices as far as protecting those traditional community neighborhoods. I don’t know what we will end up doing, what the final recommendations will be, but I think that’s something that we do hear pretty regularly from the community — that we need to at least talk about it and address it.”

This effort will happen concurrently with the exploration into the licensure program.

To view the City Council’s discussion on this topic and documents presented at the meeting, visit

To reach Eleanor Hasenbeck, call 970-871-4210, email or follow her on Twitter @elHasenbeck.

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