The number of listings for short-term vacation rentals in Denver through services such as Airbnb and VRBO is creeping back up a year after the city started enforcing regulations on hosts and their properties.
And those listings brought in an estimated $2.9 million for Denver last year via lodger’s-tax collections.
Denver passed an ordinance that went into effect Jan. 1, 2017, that strengthened rules on licensing and lodger’s tax paperwork on short-term rental sites. The city also cracked down on the number of properties that hosts are allowed to rent out — limiting it to a "primary residence" only.
In December 2016 there were 3,751 licensed short-term rental properties (or STRs) in Denver, according to a STR Compliance report from the city. After the law passed Jan. 1 of last year, there was a slight drop in the number of listings, largely because of the primary-residence rule.
The city has bounced back, and is up to 3,866 STRs, per that same report.
Ashley Kilroy, executive director of the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses, said at a city council committee hearing on Feb. 14 that Denver has the highest rate of STRs cooperating with the regulatory system — 71 percent — of all the cities they studied, followed by New Orleans at 53 percent.
Though the new regulatory system is not without flaws, as an audit report revealed in November 2017, it has begun the first steps of regulating the STR market in Denver without severely deterring the number of listings, officials say.
The audit said that in its first year of the program, regulation was "weak" in the areas of licensing, regulation and tax compliance among others.
In the Feb. 14 hearing, Kilroy said that the agency was "learning a lot and dedicated to continue improvement."
Despite regulatory imperfections, the increase in the number of listings is good news for the city, considering that a recent study from the University of Denver estimated that the economic impact from STRs in the city was about $21 million annually.
In addition to taxable revenue coming in, the new regulations also mean that investors can’t buy up a bunch of Denver properties and rent them out — which was a common complaint.
James Carlson and Erin Spradlin, a couple and co-owners of James Carlson Real Estate, teach classes on Airbnb and have worked with a lot of their clients to list their homes on STR sites.
They said that when Airbnb became popular in 2014, there were several cases of investors buying up multiple properties to list and rent. This prevented access to a lot of housing for permanent residents, and hurt the "neighborhood" feeling of certain streets, they said.
"We went to the city meetings, and most people were in favor of restrictions on these properties," Spradlin said. "There was a sense of ‘stranger danger’ and nervousness, because they didn’t like being next to a hotel-type house."
Carlson said that Denver’s short-term rental ordinance was also driven by complaints of affordability and availability. When investors bought up a lot of properties, it limited people’s access to affordable housing.
"Investors would come in and buy up huge swaths of houses that could be rented," James said.
Citing economic impact, Carlson and Spradlin also spoke of how STRs have helped some people — including a few of their clients — move into properties they might not be able to afford without extra income.
A young couple moving into a house with extra bedrooms would be able to rent them out, they said, as well as houses that come with basements, attics and dwelling units in the yard that the new owner might not need to occupy.
2018 Largest Denver-Area Hotels
Ranked by No. of guest rooms
Rank Business name No. of guest rooms 1 Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel 1,231 2 Hyatt Regency Denver at Colorado Convention Center 1,100 3 Hilton Denver City Center 613 View This List