Here's Denver's latest plan for rooting out unlicensed short-term rentals - Denver Business Journal
Denver is looking to impose penalties on short-term-rental platform operators like Airbnb and VRBO if they process reservations and payments for properties operating illegally in city limits with proper licensing. The move — discussed Wednesday by the city council’s business, arts, workforce and aviation services committee and then advanced to the full council unanimously for a vote — aims to raise accountability on properties that have caused problems with neighbors. In addition to creating noise and trash problems, rental houses operating illegally have put stress on local housing stock, and tracking them through platforms that give owners access to wide audiences of potential renters is a way to stop such rogue listings, explained Erica Rogers, a policy analyst for the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses. City officials haven’t figured out the exact way yet to enforce a potential new law mandating that rental platforms prove that listed properties are licensed. But they are looking at several options, including requiring that platforms validate properties’ licenses before posting them, require hosts to enter license numbers in potential new mandatory fields and deactivate properties that are flagged as not being licensed by the city, Rogers said. Any violations of the new law, which is proposed to go into effect on Feb. 1, could come with penalties of as much as $1,000 per day per violation. While the major booking service platforms have not shown enthusiasm for the proposed new regulations, they have expressed a willingness to comply as long as all platforms large and small are held to the same standards, said Molly Duplechian, deputy excise and licensing director. That is different from at least six other cities, including Boston and Los Angeles, where some platforms have filed litigation to try to stop cities from enforcing new regulations. And licensed short-term rental owners chimed into the committee meeting Wednesday to support the proposal, saying that it doesn’t appear to burden them with any new requirements but will help to root out unlawful actors who tend to give a black eye to the sector as a whole. “I think this is a really good thing,” said Buffy Gilfoil, who has been a host for seven years and sits on the city’s Short-Term Rental Advisory Committee. “I think it’s great that we as hosts will not be competing with people who are not following the rules.” The bustling short-term rental sector, which included 2,694 properties in August, reported 547,000 guest arrivals in the city in 2019 and earnings of $89.4 million for hosts — figures up some 70% from 2017, according to Airbnb figures relayed during the meeting by Rogers. A full 88% of the active properties in Denver list through Airbnb. Denver began requiring all short-term-rental hosts to be licensed at the start of 2017, a move that resulted in the collection of $10.6 million in lodgers’ tax from that group in 2019, or about 10% of all the revenues collected from that tax. And for three years, the city has aggressively enforced the licensing law against hosts when it’s discovered unlicensed properties being listed. This new effort is a shift in focus to the platforms, which also make money from the growing industry and which city officials believe should shoulder some responsibility in stopping illegal practices. If approved by the City Council, licensing-department officials would plan to provide databases of licensed short-term rentals to each of the platforms, which could then sync them with their systems and use that information to check on licensing status, Rogers said. “This will allow Denver to keep up with the evolution of this newer industry and keep Denver as a leader in regulating short-term rentals,” she said. While council members backed the proposal Wednesday, they also questioned if existing regulations go far enough in stopping discrimination by property owners. Wheelchair-bound councilman Chris Hinds expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of information that many platforms post about wheelchair accessibility and other forms of accessibility for potential disabled renters, and he told an Airbnb representative that he would like to discuss opportunities for them to step up and make their sites more accessible. Several hosts responded to Hinds by saying that while they try to be as accommodating as possible for disabled guests, individuals who own single properties and rent them to make extra income don’t have resources to comply with every disability-access rule that applies to hotels.