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Routt County cracking down on illegal vacation rentals amid coronavirus concerns

During its Tuesday meeting, the Board of Routt County Commissioners announced plans to strengthen enforcement on illegal vacation home rentals. Neighborhoods in the county, such as Tree Haus, are not allowed to rent out homes for short-term stays. The health concerns surrounding the coronavirus outbreak are heightening concerns of visitors checking into the illegal rentals.
John F. Russell

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Routt County is cracking down on its recent lodging ban following several reports of violations at short-term rentals in and around Steamboat Springs.

On March 24, the Board of Routt County Commissioners issued a 30-day public health order banning new reservations at all lodging companies, including hotels, motels, short-term rentals and campgrounds. The order gave local officials the power to enforce the ban through a court summons, which could result in up to a $5,000 fine or 18 months in county jail.

Not everyone has followed that order, according to Commissioner Beth Melton. She has heard from numerous sources, including residents and local officials, that homes are still being advertised on rental sites like Airbnb and VRBO. Some are being touted as tranquil getaways for city dwellers looking for an isolated place to spend a weekend amid the global pandemic.

The county will be sending cease and desist orders to properties that are violating the lodging ban, according to a news release. Those who do not comply could receive a court summons.

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“We don’t want to encourage people to come on vacation here (during this crisis),”Melton said.

The more visitors who stay in Routt County, even if just for a few days, the greater the chances that the local health care system gets overwhelmed, she explained. Of even greater concern to health officials is the potential for visitors to worsen the spread of the virus.

“Anyone who is coming in and out of the community has the potential to introduce new cases,” Melton said.

On Wednesday, the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment made several announcements discouraging people from traveling away from their homes into more rural areas, particularly into mountain communities.

“This is not a vacation; it’s a pandemic,” the department said in a tweet on Wednesday. “There are still an alarming number of people traveling to our mountain communities, putting themselves and others at risk. Whether you’re a second homeowner or weekend warrior, please stay home.”

The county-wide lodging ban is in addition to an ordinance that pertains to unincorporated parts of Routt County, which prohibits short-term rentals at all times unless in a municipal area like Steamboat or Hayden. The ordinance, outlined in rental codes, is meant to reflect the values of residents and maintain the rural integrity of Routt County. 

“This is different than land use planning issues,” Commissioner Doug Monger said of the recent violations, adding that people need to follow the public health orders. 

The city of Steamboat also has been tracking violations of the lodging ban, according to City Manager Gary Suiter. More than 900 short-term rental owners in Steamboat have been notified of the ban since it went into effect, he said, but many continue to advertise their properties as currently available on rental sites.  

Vacation rental listings may continue to stay on rental sites, Suiter explained, but owners must show their properties as unavailable for the duration of the lodging ban.

Both the Steamboat Springs Planning Department and the Steamboat Spring Police Department are monitoring for compliance of the ban. Violators receive similar cease and desist orders as county residents or, in more serious cases, a court summons.

The state’s health orders also prohibit residential cleaning services, according to Commissioner Melton. Residential cleaning is listed as a nonessential service under Gov. Jared Polis stay-at-home order, unlike janitorial and cleaning services at medical facilities and grocery stores, which are still allowed.

“An individual coming in and out of your house is creating risk for you and for that person as well,” Melton said. “You could spread the virus, or they could. It is better to cancel all housekeeping services for your home or business that is not essential.”

To report a public health order violation, contact non-emergency dispatch at 970-879-1090. 

To reach Derek Maiolo, call 970-871-4247, email dmaiolo@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @derek_maiolo.


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