Remember back in February of ‘21, when Wheat Ridge City Council adopted an ordinance allowing and but regulating short-term rentals, aka STRs? That went into effect the following May with licensing, and enforcement and lodging tax collection began that August.
One year later, it’s time to ask what worked, what didn’t, and what’s next.
In early July I spoke with City of Wheat Ridge’s Director of Administrative Services Allison Scheck, Treasurer Chris Miller, Director of Finance Mark Colvin, and Licensing Technician Megan Schmitz. Colvin and Schmitz are responsible for carrying out the administrative tasks associated with the STR licensing program.
Are Any Licenses Left?
The ordinance limits the number of “whole-home” STRs in residential neighborhoods and their concentration in each council district, set at 2 percent of the overall number of residential dwellings in each. (There are no limits on partial-home, owner-occupied rentals, nor for those in commercial districts or those licensed prior to November 2021, but a license is still required.)
Scheck said 176 licenses have been issued, 134 for whole-home and 42 for partial-home. Only District I reached its limit – 49.
“We recently just hit the 2 percent mark,” said Schmitz. She was surprised it didn’t happen sooner, and estimated 8 to 10 applicants were on a waitlist.
As of July 7, two thirds of the allowed licenses have been issued in District II (34 out of 54), a third in District III (18 out of 54), and more than half in District IV (20 out of 35). In the month prior, Districts II and IV each had one additional license issued.
District I’s popularity with folks pursuing STR licenses, in Schmitz’ opinion, is due to its location, close to Sloans’ Lake.
Are We Rich Yet?
The city collects an application fee of $200 for each STR license, and a lodging tax of 10 percent, due the 20th of each following month. The city collected $42,000 of license revenue since May 2021, and $330,000 of lodgers’ tax since August 2021.
The licensing fees were not set in the ordinance, but council’s intent was to have the program pay for itself, explained Miller. He noted that Denver’s $25 fee makes Wheat Ridge’s look expensive, but that unincorporated Jefferson County’s is much more.
When setting the fees, the team said they did not focus on what neighboring cities were charging, but covering administrative costs – the vendor running the website, and the salary of Schmitz, the technician hired for the program.
“We were shooting in the dark when setting up,” said Miller of predicting revenue from the fees.
“We really didn’t know,” echoed Scheck, who said the point was not to raise revenue. “This was more about compliance, quality of life and neighborhoods.”
So why is Wheat Ridge’s renewal fee the same as the application fee?
“The work is just as much,” said Scheck. “The initial work has to do with ownership… renewal entails compliance.” Schmitz must go through rental listings to see if owners are complying, and also to see if the real estate has changed hands.
Who Got Busted?
At the time of the interview, Scheck said the city had not acted to revoke any licenses, and police had reported minimal calls, none resulting in a summons. Schmitz gets calls, too.
“Most calls are from concerned neighbors,” explains Schmitz. “A lot are anonymous, a lot don’t want to put in an official report.”
They ask what’s happening at a property, and whether they are complying.
It’s not a lot, she said, and the second-most common calls have been about renters with loud, barking dogs.
“I think I’m getting less calls than I expected.”
Schmitz said residents with concerns should not call 911, but file an online complaint (https://lodging.munirevs.com/complaint/?cityid=1126) or call the non-emergency number, 303-237-2220.
Colvin was mildly surprised at the cooperation of STR hosts.
“I would give a lot of kudos to residents who were reporting and paying,” he said. Many of the hosts were very understanding and did the right thing…Some people were nasty to Megan [Schmitz], but we had more people who cooperated.”
Scheck hinted that the city’s attitude may have something to do with the rarity of enforcement actions.
“We will always be business friendly, and give the benefit of the doubt not just to short term rentals, but all businesses,” said Scheck.
Year two will be about compliance, said Scheck.
Colvin said they are designing a compliance program to follow up on those who are licensed as well as identify those who are not.
“I want everyone to be in compliance, and there are people under the radar,” Schmitz said. If found out, the owner of an unlicensed STR is not allowed to apply for a year.
“A lot of people have come forward, and they now hold a license,” she said. “It’s a nice surprise.”