In the last week, both Aspen City Council and the Pitkin County Board of Commissioners unanimously passed ordinances that limit short-term rental activity to no more than 120 days per year.
The 120-day limits apply to properties within the city limits of Aspen as well as in unincorporated parts of the county and are intended to “minimize the negative impacts of short-term rentals on Aspen’s neighborhoods, housing supply, economy, and environment,” according to Aspen’s ordinance resolution.
Both city and county elected officials had initially pushed for 90-day limits but increased the limits after hearing from STR owners and operators about how the lesser limit would affect home ownership, businesses, and Aspen’s economy.
“Having the 90-day limit extended to 120 days was a huge win in the ordinance, but much of the ordinance was not well thought out and didn’t consider different uses of short-term rentals and impacts in the community,” said Tracy Sutton, an officer of the Aspen Pitkin County Short-Term Rental Alliance and president of Aspen Signature Vacation Rentals. “Fortunately, there is still an opportunity to address some of our concerns.”
City of Aspen
The Aspen STR ordinance, Ordinance No. 9, was passed unanimously on June 28 and follows a six-month moratorium on STR permits in the ski resort town of about 7,000 residents. The new regulations take effect on July 29.
In addition to the 120-day limit, Ordinance No. 9 caps the allowable number of short-term rental permits to 75% of existing permits in certain zones. Other zones do not have a limit on the number of short-term rentals.
Currently, there are 1,319 legal vacation rentals in the city of Aspen, and those would be reduced to less than 1,000 through attrition.
The city will offer three different STR permit types: STR Classic, STR Owner-Occupied, and STR Lodging Exempt. STR Lodging Exempt refers to condo-hotels, which are condominiums with hotel-like services such as a front desk, concierge, and onsite amenities.
STR Classic permits are limited by number in certain residential and ski-area zones of the city but unlimited in commercial, lodging, and preservation zones. However, there is no limit on the number of STR Owner-Occupied and STR Lodging Exempt permits anywhere in the city.
Some condos that were built for STRs in the 70s and 80s were excluded from zones.
Occupancy of all STRs is limited to two people per bedroom plus one additional occupant. Permit applications are required to list the number of bedrooms in the unit and maximum occupancy.
Permit fees are set at $349 for STR Classic and STR Owner-Occupied and $148 for STR Lodging Exempt. This permit fee is in addition to the business license fee of $150, which is already required.
Read the ordinance in full starting on page 108 here.
The council is considering drafting an amendment to the ordinance to address a non-transferability provision. Currently, the ordinance does not allow the transfer of an STR permit when someone buys a property that is being used as a short-term rental, but advocates, including Sutton, have asked for a provision that would allow all existing reservations to be honored after a property is sold.
Council and city staff members said in-depth engagement of community members during public comment and working groups helped to shape the ordinance.
“Public engagement was central to our process and outcomes included in the ordinance,” the staff memo stated and added that public involvement would continue to shape the STR program.
The council will continue polling on ballot language for an STR tax that could end up on the November ballot.
Unincorporated Pitkin County
The Pitkin County Board of Commissioners on June 22 unanimously approved its ordinance creating a licensing system for short-term rentals and limiting rental activity to 120 days per year.
The board also set a minimum stay of four days to reduce the number of parking and trash issues in neighborhoods.
The new regulations apply only to unincorporated areas of Pitkin County – meaning areas outside of Aspen and Snowmass jurisdictional limits – and take effect Sept. 20, 2022. This unincorporated area contains approximately 300 to 400 short-term rentals, said Pitkin County Attorney John Ely.
“However, until the licensing program is in place, we will not have accurate information regarding numbers of STRs,” Ely said. “The regulations are anticipated to change over the next five years as we understand the scope of STR activity better.”
Both city and county officials mentioned the scarcity of workers in the area due to a lack of affordable housing as a motivating factor in crafting the ordinances.
However, the 120-day limit will do little to enhance the availability of housing, affordable or otherwise. In fact, some STRs may simply sit empty for a greater part of the year rather than providing housing to employees, said Aspen homeowner Presley Swann.
Sutton said that the community of Redstone would be particularly hard-hit by the county ordinance.
“Some of those people are going to lose their homes because they won’t be able to afford them any longer with the 120-day limit,” Sutton said.
Matthew Betcher, also a member of the Aspen Pitkin County Short-Term Rental Alliance, said he and his partner depend on short-term rental income to pay the mortgage on their home in Redstone, and the new regulation may force them to sell it.
“The board effectively stole our home and the voice and spirit of Redstone,” Betcher said. “For what?”
Small businesses in Redstone also will suffer, Betcher said.
“Redstone has a vibrant summer tourist season but remains quiet the rest of the season,” he said. “Now that the county has decided to remove basically all non-summer lodging options, the businesses will have an incredibly hard time remaining open. By allowing just four months of rental nights, the board outright dismissed the voice of virtually every local business who pleaded against such regulations.”
Stephanie Holder, who owns a condo in Aspen’s core, said in testimony to Aspen City Council that “short-term rentals are becoming a boogie man for reasons I can’t understand.”
“You are going to push people underground. You are going to create a black market. There will always be short-term rentals, but instead of the city getting the sales tax revenue, they’ll lose out on all of that.”
Photo courtesy Jamie Fenn