Littleton council rejects regulations on short-term rentals

4-3 vote kills proposed ordinance that would have overseen Airbnb-style lodging

Posted 1/19/19

Short-term home rentals will remain unregulated in Littleton for the foreseeable future, after city council rejected a labored-over regulatory ordinance in a split vote on Jan. 15. Council voted 4-3 …

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Littleton council rejects regulations on short-term rentals

4-3 vote kills proposed ordinance that would have overseen Airbnb-style lodging

Posted

Short-term home rentals will remain unregulated in Littleton for the foreseeable future, after city council rejected a labored-over regulatory ordinance in a split vote on Jan. 15.

Council voted 4-3 to reject the measure, which would have established a framework for permitting and overseeing home rentals generally booked through sites like Airbnb and VRBO.

The vote followed more than seven months of wrangling over the ordinance, spanning a half-dozen council study sessions, planning commission meetings, and hundreds of comments and emails from the public.

What happens now?

“We move on,” said Littleton Mayor Debbie Brinkman. “We've got too much other work to do.”

A staff analysis showed upward of 100 short-term rentals in Littleton, said City Attorney Steve Kemp in a presentation before the vote. Of those, only 10 have obtained business licenses, with the rest operating under the table.

Currently, Littleton's city code allows short-term rentals in any area in the city zoned for residential uses, Kemp said, under a decades-old legal definition that calls them “boarding houses.” City staff do not seek out unlicensed rentals, instead relying on “passive enforcement,” meaning they respond to code enforcement complaints from neighbors.

The proposed ordinance would have required short-term rental owners to obtain a city permit, notify neighbors, maintain a local contact person to respond to complaints, and established occupancy limits. The city would have hired a third-party agency to monitor online listings, and sought to bring under-the-table properties into compliance.

Seemingly the most contentious clause in the ordinance would have limited short-term rentals to the owner's primary residence, barring permit holders from renting out a second home in the city.

The primary residence requirement was the sticking point for numerous commenters at the Jan. 15 meeting, with several short-term rental owners saying the clause would put them out of business.

“This is beyond overregulation — this is a ban,” said Michael Orf, who said he is one of the 10 who obtained business licenses for their short-term rentals. He said the primary residence requirement “will shut down most of those 10 law-abiding citizens who followed the rules, obtained licenses and paid taxes.”

Councilmember Karina Elrod introduced an amendment to change the ordinance's primary residence requirement to allow permit holders to be a resident of the city within three miles of the subject property, but the amendment failed by a vote of 4-3, with Mayor Brinkman and councilmembers Pat Driscoll, Peggy Cole and Carol Fey saying no.

Mayor Brinkman stood steadfast behind the primary residence requirement, saying the city's housing stock is already too tight, and allowing homes to be used solely as short-term rentals eliminated housing that could go to community members.

“I'm sorry, but my primary concern as a councilmember is protecting our neighborhoods,” Brinkman said. “Changing your business plan versus changing the neighborhood is a very big difference.”

Though outnumbered by opponents by more than 3 to 1, some commenters supported the ordinance.

“The people making money on (short-term rentals) are not who you should be looking out for,” said Dan Radulovich, a resident who led the charge for the ordinance after he and several neighbors complained to council last summer about a short-term rental on their block. “Your obligation is to the vast majority of citizens, and this ordinance provides a good starting point.”

Several councilmembers expressed trepidation over the ordinance, saying it was too strict.

“We need to make sure we have a compromise between those who would like to see short-term rentals completely banned and those who would like no restrictions,” said councilmember Kyle Schlachter, who voted against the ordinance. “The current (proposed) ordinance is a bit of an overraeach. It's an effective ban.”

Councilmember Carol Fey balked at the characterization.

“We have short-term rentals now, and if we pass this, we'll still have them,” Fey said. “Do we want to regulate them or do we want a free-for-all? … With this ordinance the city will be able to do something about the bad behavior when it happens.”

Brinkman said the ordinance would include a lengthy grace period and wasn't set in stone.

“We can come back to this,” Brinkman said. “Of course it's not perfect.”

With Councilmembers Peggy Cole, Jerry Valdes, Kyle Schlachter and Karina Elrod voting no, the ordinance failed.

Schlachter, speaking by phone after the vote, said he hoped short-term rental regulation could come back around as part of the city's Complan process.

Mayor Brinkman called the vote disheartening.

“Now there's no regulation on somebody from Texas coming up here and buying multiple houses to rent out,” Brinkman said. “When you get these disruptors, they don't go away. They find a niche where they can make money, and they change things. We did the best we could for seven months, but it's status quo in Littleton.”

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