With more than 4 million listings worldwide, Airbnb is considered the largest lodging company in the world. And its impact has been felt in cities all over, including Colorado Springs. As Airbnb and other sites have increased the demand for so called “short term vacation rentals,” these properties have sprung up across the city -- but there are currently no laws on the books to regulate them. Colorado Springs officials are looking to change that.
Tayari Appiah rents out several rooms in his home on the east side of Colorado Springs through Airbnb. It’s a 1960s rancher, decorated like a seaside beach cabin, with photos of ocean sunsets, wallpaper that looks like weathered wood, and many of the touches you’d expect from a hotel: TVs in the guest rooms, decoratively folded towels in the bathroom.
Appiah and his wife moved to Colorado Springs about a year ago. He’s prior military and works as a nurse, and he started hosting on Airbnb to make some extra income. He says he loves the homesharing model -- both as a host and a guest.
“I first used Airbnb in England, actually to go to a Harry Potter convention,” he explained, “and I found the convenience just so wonderful, to live in somebody’s home and feel local to the area.”
Appiah wants to give visitors to Colorado Springs a similar experience when they stay with him. He owns a few Airbnb properties in the city, and also has a housecleaning business that caters to other short term rental owners. He admits he’s benefitted from the fact that the city doesn’t have specific restrictions on short term rentals -- which are rented for less than 30 days at a time -- but he doesn’t feel like regulations are needed.
“It is unregulated in the city,” he said, “but I feel like it’s regulated enough on the site itself.”
City officials disagree.
“We know that this is a huge issue in our community,” said Jill Gaebler, president pro tem of Colorado Springs City Council.
Gaebler is part of a group that helped draft a proposed short term rental ordinance. The ordinance would do several things to regulate the properties. First, it would require owners get a permit before they can list a short term rental, which will help the city track the units and ensure that people are paying sales and lodging taxes.
Additionally, owners will have to meet a handful of criteria in order to qualify for a permit. For instance, they’ll have to prove that they have sufficient liability insurance, and they’ll need to supply a local contact who can deal with problems at the property as they arise. Owners will also be required to complete a safety self-inspection.
“I do want to make sure that these are safe products in our community and that they are abiding by some, at least, boundaries of regulation,” said Gaebler.
But the ordinance isn’t as restrictive as some others. For instance, Manitou Springs caps the number of short term rentals at two percent of the local housing stock, and says there can’t be more than one rental within a 500 foot radius. In Boulder, you can only rent out your primary residence. Gaebler says though similar rules have been discussed in Colorado Springs, she doesn’t think they would be right for the city.
“We protect private property rights, we are a fairly conservative city,” she explained, “and if folks want to use their properties for that use, I don’t think the city should be stopping them.”
Colorado Springs residents Mike and Katherine Applegate would like to see the city do just that. They live on a sleepy street in the westside neighborhood of Holland Park. Recently, the house across from them was converted into a short term rental. The owner doesn’t live on-site, and Katherine says the revolving door of overnight tenants has changed the character of their neighborhood.
“From the beginning I knew it was going to be strangers and people that we didn’t know there all the time, and we weren’t going to have a neighbor anymore that we could get to know and feel safe around and build a relationship with,” she said.
She explained that, in some ways, it’s as if a motel opened across the street.
“It’s really a business in our neighborhood, and it’s not being held to the same standard that any other business in a neighborhood like ours would be.”
The Applegates say the tight-knit, neighborly feel was a big selling point when they bought their home. Now, they say they worry that, without restrictions on the number of short term rentals in the city, their neighborhood and others like it could soon lose that sense of community altogether.
Together with other concerned local residents, the Applegates have formed a group to push for tougher restrictions on short term rentals. Citing concerns about community and about the potential effects on affordable housing, they are calling for the city to impose a cap on the rentals and limit them to primary residences only.
“I guess we have to decide, is our city here for residents who live here or do we want to cater more to the transient guests?” asked Mike Applegate. “Frankly I think it’s our city, our community, and the fabric of it that’s more important.”
Assistant city planning director Meggan Herington admits it’s a complicated issue.
“It’s very hard to figure out how to treat this short term rental use, people are very passionate on both sides,” she explained.
Herington helped write the rules, and says the process has been contentious, with rental owners and concerned neighbors each opposed to different aspects of the ordinance. She says the city has tried to balance protecting neighborhoods, not overburdening rental owners, and ensuring that visitors to Colorado Springs are able to take advantage of an increasingly popular lodging option.
“This draft is meant to be a compromise, a meet-in-the-middle of sorts,” she explained.
For his part, Tayari Appiah is worried about one provision of the proposed ordinance in particular. It stipulates that only one short term rental unit is allowed per home, and it would keep people from renting out multiple rooms in their house separately, as Appiah does now.
He said that type of listing is perfect for someone just getting off the ground, as it allows a person to simply take a few extra bedrooms and turn them into extra income.
In that regard, he said, “I think this ordinance, as it stands, helps bigger businesses -- really big businesses -- and it and hampers smaller businesses... You can be an ordinary person and start this up.”
Appiah said he’s sympathetic to concerns that short term rentals could change neighborhoods, but he thinks short term rentals are here to stay, and people need to accept that some change is inevitable.
He also points out that most of the guests he’s hosted have been respectful and problem free.
Nevertheless, he said, “personally, if I had a bad guest, I’d rather a bad guest than a bad neighbor, because the neighbor’s probably going to be next to me for years!”
City council is expected to take up the ordinance later this month, with a vote likely in October. In the meantime, residents can share their thoughts on the issue by contacting their councilmembers.
Note: this post was updated to include a link to the Colorado Springs Short Term Rental Alliance's Facebook page.