Professional Landlords Feel Pinch From Denver’s Short-Term Rental Plan

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
The Denver skyline and the Rocky Mountains.

Should landlords be allowed to rent out properties they don’t live in on platforms like Airbnb and VRBO?

That question has turned out to be the most contentious part of a Denver City Council proposal to regulate short-term rentals in the city.

The proposal is aimed at protecting the housing supply for traditional long-term renters. With no action, the fear is that investors will scoop up single-family homes or even whole apartment buildings and turn them into quasi-hotels -- taking away precious housing for the city's residents.

Data compiled by CPR News last year shows that most Airbnb hosts only rent out one unit, which suggests that most wouldn't be affected by the primary residency rule. But a small number of hosts would, including Stacy Neir of Denver who rents out an investment property in Jefferson Park.

Neir, who spoke in opposition of the proposal at a council committee meeting on Wednesday, said later that she brings in $1,000 to $2,000 a month from the rental -- comparable to what she used to get from traditional tenants.

"Normally we just break even on our mortgage," she said, adding that main attraction of short-term rentals is that she's able to keep the property in better condition.

"Even if I could get more money from a long-term rental, I wouldn't," she said. "It's just very hard on my properties."

Airbnb, which has typically fought efforts to regulate its services, is has actually signaled its approval for the primary residency requirement.

"We will educate our hosts and work to help ensure they agree to a policy of listing only properties that are permanent homes on a short-term basis," says the company's "Community Compact," which was released in November. The company is trying to shore-up its image of a facilitator of home sharing, and distance itself from charges that it is skirting regulations at the expense of neighborhood cohesion.

But Neir also lists her property on VRBO, which is more tailored to vacation home rentals than the home-sharing focus of Airbnb. Hosts on that platform have more to lose under Denver's proposal.

"[It] would effectively shutter mom-and-pop businesses in Denver," Shahla Hebets of the Denver Short Term Alliance, told the council. "We ask the city council to look at the unintended consequences."

Other cities, including Boulder, also limit short-term rentals to exclude second homes. In that city, the provision drew criticism for limiting private property rights but was ultimately passed.

The council will continue to hear arguments over the next few months; public meetings will be held across the city in February and a decision is expected by May.