As part of its ongoing efforts to regulate the local short-term rental industry, the city of Denver plans to impose a financial penalty on platforms that book stays on unlicensed rental properties.
“Denver has asked major platforms since 2017 to prevent bookings on unlicensed short-term rentals in order to meet our compliance goals. However, we have not identified voluntary compliance with these platforms. Therefore, the law is required to ensure such a booking service.” Providers are responsible if they profit from illegal activity, “said Eric Escudero, spokesman for Denver Excise and Licenses.
On November 23, Denver City Council will vote on an ordinance proposed by Excise and Licenses that will impose a $ 1,000 fine that can be imposed on operators such as Airbnb and VRBO for anyone booking a stay with an unlicensed rental.
Other major cities have imposed financial sanctions on non-compliant platforms. For example, Chicago fines range from $ 1,500 to $ 3,000, while Seattle fines range from $ 500 to $ 1,000. Denver imposes a $ 1,000 fine.
The Denver Regulation does not specify how platforms must be complied with in order to avoid fines. However, the city suggests that platforms require all hosts to enter their license number, then verify the validity of that license before a host can post a list, and also disable or remove lists that do not have a license number or display an invalid license number.
As of November 12, Denver had 2,009 active short-term rental licenses, up from 2,575 active licenses in mid-March when the COVID pandemic locked the city.
Denver began licensing short-term rentals in early 2017. Since then, Excise and Licenses has filed complaints from neighbors about problematic short term rentals, often focusing on noise, garbage or parking issues.
“We have found time and time again that the problematic short-term rentals are either unlicensed or not operated by a primary resident,” Molly Duplechian of Excise and Licenses told a November 4th council committee meeting.
While Airbnb has shown a willingness to sue municipalities taking accountability measures on platforms, it doesn’t seem likely in Denver. (Airbnb didn’t respond to a request for comment.)
“We held close discussions with the booking service providers,” said Duplechian. “They have stated that they support this change and are ready to be partners for compliance. They simply stated that they want to ensure that all booking platforms are of the same standard.”
Short term rent hosts who serve on a city short term rent advisory committee expressed their support for the proposed regulation at the November 4th meeting.
“I think that’s a really good thing. I think we hosts won’t be competing as much with people who don’t follow the rules,” said Buffy Gilfoil. “As a homeowner, I’m really happy that we’re less likely to have unregulated deals where things get out of hand.”
Susan Bailey added, “I believe the i’s have been spotted and the t’s have been crossed to make a model that is a workable model for the city, for hosts, and for platforms.”
Earlier this year the council approved stricter rules on short-term rentals designed to make the system more difficult to cheat. The rules supported the requirement that a house or apartment listed on a website such as Airbnb must be the owner’s primary residence.
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The ordinance came over a year after Excise and Licenses began aggressively prosecuting short-term landlords who the department believed were non-primary residential homes for short-term rental purposes. The Denver District Attorney’s Office was involved in enforcing the ordinance in 2019, accusing four short-term landlords of swaying an official for allegedly providing false information about their primary residence in an affidavit.
In December 2019, DA Beth McCann’s office dismissed one of the crime charges. The prosecutors expressed their belief that they did not have enough evidence to win a trial. That summer, the DA office dismissed charges against the other three people, citing the pandemic and a desire to focus on violent criminal cases, according to BusinessDen.
In January 2020, two short-term landlords surrendered their licenses after their homes were reportedly used by tenants to throw parties, both of which resulted in gunfire.
Of course, under Level Red’s COVID restrictions, parties without gunshots are also having problems these days.
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh works for Westword where he covers a range of topics including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and enjoys talking about New York sports.