Colorado conundrum: How communities around the state are handling short-term rentals

A photo of the mountain area of Steamboat Springs.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot

Brooke Bobela felt a knot in her stomach when she received the news that her landlord would be selling her apartment complex to another owner who planned to use the building for short-term rentals.

Bobela, of Avon, has lived in Eagle County for eight years and works as a ski instructor at Vail Ski Resort and in various restaurants doing catering and events. Throughout her time in the county, she has bounced between small, 800-square-foot apartments that are advertised for locals seeking reasonably priced housing.

“This is the worker bees, middle-class families and just good people who make this community run,” Bobela said.

After hearing the news that she couldn’t renew her lease, Bobela rushed to housing websites to seek out other options, but page after page brought disappointment. There were just endless ads for nightly rentals, but none for long-term renters.

“I’ve invested a lot into the eight years that I’ve been here, and I don’t want to leave,” Bobela said. “There is a huge chunk of the year where these places just sit vacant, and that’s a tough pill for me to swallow as a person who works here 12 months of the year.”

A ski town crisis

While their approaches vary, resort communities across Colorado, including Steamboat Springs, are asking themselves the same question: Are short-term rentals causing a problem, and if so, how can the problem be solved?

“What you hear from a lot of people is that we no longer have neighbors, we now have hotels,” said Wendy Sullivan, principal of WSW Consulting, an organization that studies housing needs in tourism-based towns around the West. “Everyone feels impacts, and they’re not happy about them.”

David Barnett has always loved to snowboard, and after spending most of his life in Missouri, he was thrilled when the opportunity to work at Kidney Center of the Rockies opened up in Avon, as he would be living minutes away from two major ski resorts.

As a dialysis registered nurse, Barnett said he earns a comfortable salary, but the lack of housing in Eagle County made it nearly impossible for him to find an apartment even with his larger budget.

“I love this place. I love my patients. I love my manager. I don’t want to move, but it’s looking like I’m going to have to,” Barnett said. “I can’t imagine I’m the only one going through this.”

Kim Williams, executive director of the Eagle County Housing Authority, said it is difficult to quantify exactly how many short-term rental units are in the county, as Eagle County does not require permits for units in unincorporated parts of the county, though individual towns have many of their own requirements.

Though the data is difficult to measure, Williams said she is confident the county has lost much of its housing stock to nightly rentals, which has forced restaurant workers,…

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