Rep. Kim Ransom

Rep. Kim Ransom, R-Douglas County, argues against a bill empowering counties to regulate short-term rentals on the House floor on Feb. 10, 2020.

The Colorado House gave preliminary approval to legislation Monday that empower county governments to regulate short-term rentals. The question is a big issue outside Colorado's resort towns and mountain enclaves, where letting out a space can lead to a fuss in the neighborhood.

House Bill 1093 passed on a voice voice but still faces a roll-call vote before it can advance to the Senate to start over in committees.

Rep. Julie McCluskie, a Democrat from Dillon, said that in Summit County about one-third of the housing units are rented out, leading to constant problems with noise, parking, septic systems and bears attracted to neglected trash.

"We really need a more formal, appropriate process to be able to license and regulate short-term rentals in our rural communities," she said during the floor debate.

Rep. Jim Wilson, a Republican from Salida and another high country lawmaker behind the bill, said the legislation isn't about adding regulations, but legally empowering counties that choose to regulate short-term rentals. Municipalities already have that ability, and some counties are plowing ahead without limits or guidelines from the state, he said.

"That ship has already left the harbor," Wilson said. "County governments are already regulating these without any statutory authority."

The bill is backed by Colorado Counties Inc., the coalition of most of the state's county governments. Counties would not be required to create new rules under the proposed bill, but would have the backing of state law in doing so.

McCluskie said that without licenses, counties have a hard time telling who is opeating a lodging business out of a home and who instead has a very large family.

"By taking this step we're hoping to capture data on where short-term rentals are operating and be able to establish some appropriate regulations, so that they understand what is OK with parking, volume in the number of people staying at a residence, noise, etc."

The bill was opposed by Rep. Tim Geitner, a Republican from Colorado Springs.

"I think this is a matter of private property," he said. "And I think it's a matter of privacy for an individual in how they tend to manage their private property, specifically in the rural communities."

Rep. Kim Ransom, a Republican from Douglas County, said short-term rentals are a way for people to supplement their income or afford a mountain home. She said existing rules already cover parking, septic treatment and other nuisances in unincorporated communities.

"We're hearing back about the overreach of government trying to decide how people can use their private homes," she said. "Too often, I think, we're trying to figure out what the problem is, if there is indeed even a problem at all, before we let homeowners try to resolve it themselves."

Rep. Kevin Van Winkle, a Republican from Highlands Ranch, said the bill is only adding another level of bureaucracy.

"The people of Colorado have been crying out to us in the legislature to try to simplify things, to try to minimize the complex web of local governments and state government and overlapping boundaries and different taxing districts and things," he said. 

Rep. Julie McCluskie, a Democrat from Durango, said many of these homes are rented out all-year, not just occasionally, in residential areas.

"If it hasn't been your neighbor, you probably don't care," she said. "But if it has been your neighbor, you care very, very deeply. If you want to keep your neighborhood safe and well-kept, this is absolutely the bill to do it."

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