Steamboat City Council adds narrow exemption to STR licensing regulations

Steamboat Spring City Council added a narrow exemption to short-term rental licensing regulations on Tuesday, Jan. 3, to allow entities with a 24-hour front desk to avoid requirements.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Steamboat Springs City Council added a narrow exemption to short-term rental licensing regulations on Tuesday, Jan. 3, but declined to make a broader change requested by lodging representatives.

The change will exempt any short-term rentals that have an on-site, 24-hour front desk, which city officials hope will simplify licensing requirements in hotel-like situations where guests have a way to report complaints on site at all hours.

But some lodging folks, including Mark Walker, president of Resort Group, requested that council drop the 24-hour requirement to qualify for the exemption, which would allow a much broader swath of short-term rentals to avoid licensing.

In a letter to council, Walker asserted that as drafted by city staff, the change would only exempt one entity — The Steamboat Grand — though some council members and City Planning Director Rebecca Bessey said they believe more could qualify.

“This proposed exemption language was proposed by staff to be very narrow, to not create a potential loophole that hundreds of short-term rentals may fall within,” Bessey told council members.

Properties that potentially qualify would need to apply for the exception every year, and the exemption application would be a way for the city to track the short-term rentals it applies to, Bessey said. This change has no bearing on the voter-approved 9% STR tax, which is assessed on all short-term rentals regardless of whether they operate similar to a hotel.

Some council members were concerned about the idea that the licensing exemption would only seem to impact the Steamboat Grand. City Manager Gary Suiter said the exemption was written with places with complicated ownership situations like the Grand in mind, as many units there have several owners of the same condo.

Bessey said if they were to require licenses for these condos, then the license would likely need all of the owners to sign off. Suiter said that was a level of complexity they were hoping to avoid.

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The licensing regulations are meant to give the city some level of enforcement when complaints are made, Bessey said. However, this isn’t nearly as necessary when staff are on site to field the complaints.

“It would be highly unlikely that we would ever be involved in an enforcement situation at one of those properties,” Bessey said.

There wasn’t clear support for the lodging entities’ request to remove the 24-hour front desk requirements. In fact, several council members entertained the idea of not adding the exemption at all and requiring all STRs to be licensed.

“I think we muddy the water if we make an exemption for anybody,” City Council President Robin Crossan said.

But council member Dakotah McGinlay said she was comfortable with staff’s exemption as written, and a majority of council agreed. She pondered whether it would get more vacation rental properties that have part-time front desks now to put that in place around the clock in order to meet exemption requirements and avoid licensing fees in the future.

McGinlay said she would also be open to adjusting the exemption in the future if it seemed appropriate, potentially only requiring a 24-hour front desk in peak seasons.

Council ultimately passed the exemption 5-2 with Joella West and Gail Garey voting against it and favoring no exemption at all. While council member Eddie Briones indicated he would support having no exemption, he changed his mind in light of the added work it would put on planning staff.

The exemption passed Tuesday and included a minor word change in the ordinance, with the word “security” being rewritten simply as “staff.” This was another request from Walker. While planning staff didn’t recommend the change, they didn’t see much harm in it either.

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