Steamboat planning code change causes headaches for people looking to rent vacation homes nightly |

Steamboat planning code change causes headaches for people looking to rent vacation homes nightly

Some homeowners in the Snowflake Circle and Village Drive neighborhood are frustrated by a change in the city's policy regarding vacation home rentals.
John F. Russell
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STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A change in planning code has been an unpleasant surprise for some homeowners looking to rent out vacation homes.

The change impacts single-family homes and duplexes rented out as lodging when a permanent resident does not reside there. In certain areas of Steamboat Springs, a permit is required to rent out these homes to visitors.

The recently updated Community Development Code changed the terms of these permits. If a visitor must access a vacation home rental via another person’s private property, the code requires an access easement.

In the past, the city accepted affidavits granting permission to access the homes.“We became concerned that our current permitting based on these affidavits was not in line with our code,” Steamboat Springs Planning and Community Development Director Rebecca Bessey said. Many were not updated as ownership changed, she added.

It is difficult to determine how many short-term rentals are available in Steamboat, Bessey said, because many neighborhoods do not require a permit to operate a nightly rental. There are 2,386 active listings on Airbnb in Steamboat, she said Tuesday, and 171 active vacation home rental permits in the city.

The city quit accepting the affidavits for new permit applications earlier this year. The city will continue to honor the affidavits as long as the property owner who signed the document still owns the area in question. Fifty existing permits are impacted by the change, Bessey said.

Bessey added that her department intended to send impacted permit holders direct letters explaining the policy shift, but they didn’t get to that part of the process before public comment started coming in about the matter.

On Tuesday, Steamboat Springs City Council asked staff to request the Planning Commission consider removing the shared access requirement on vacation home rental permits. If approved, the change would still need to receive final approval from the council.

Don Mills purchased a home on Snowflake Court in early June. He and the friends and family he invested with to purchase the home were excited to make use of the second home themselves but also supplement their income with short-term renters in the home.

The court is a privately owned road. Mills soon learned they would need to seek an easement to receive a vacation home rental permit. He didn’t receive a permit because other homeowners on the block did not want to record an access easement on their property.

“We’ve had a really tough few months,” Mills told City Council during public comment at council’s Tuesday work session. They tried to take legal action, but Mills said no attorney would take up the case due to its complicated nature.

“The easement issues are just a little bit onerous because there are many other solutions to this problem without putting something into a title which is very difficult to remove and costly,” said Ulrich Salzgeber, CEO of the Steamboat Board of Realtors.

Many second homeowners seek to rent their property for short terms to supplement income to make a second home financially viable, Salzgeber said. Other people chose to rent out their primary residence when they are on vacation or celebrating a holiday elsewhere, he said.

He said real estate agents in the area have had difficulty showing properties on the market that require a permit and easement to rent out the home in the short-term.

Steamboat resident Shannon Lukens expressed concern that homeowners’ associations have little say in whether nightly rentals are allowed within their boundaries. A neighboring home was purchased and rented out for nightly rentals. However, the homeowners respected the HOA’s request and removed their home from nightly rentals.

“We all panicked, and there was nothing we could do about it,” she said.

Council hoped to address this concern for neighborhood character, as well as long-term rental housing, sales and lodging tax collection, safety and enforcement within the Community Development Code by creating a committee of stakeholders and officials to give the council direction in revising the code. A similar committee made recommendations in 2008.

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

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