Close to 300 short-term rental hosts have applied for and received their license to operate in the City and County of Denver, with a Dec. 31 deadline near for an unknown number of unlicensed hosts to comply.

City Council passed an ordinance in June that required registration and set other rules and regulations to ensure the burgeoning practice of homeowners renting their residences for short time periods followed the city municipal code.

Denver Excise and Licenses Department Legislative Analyst Nathan Batchelder noted the ordinance will take effect Jan. 1, 2017, and the agency recently began a mostly digital advertising and marketing campaign to help short-term rental hosts understand what’s being asked of them.

Among the city’s requirements are that the owner be a legal resident, the property rented must be a primary residence, any regulating homeowners association must allow short-term rentals, hosts or property owners must have all other Denver business tax licenses such as lodger’s tax, and the property’s short-term license number must be listed in any online, print or other advertising.

Correcting mistakes with marketing, compliance monitoring

Batchelder said the department has sent out more than 240 registration compliance reminders to short-term rental hosts since July 1.

“One thing we found was that the license numbers, in some cases, were being posted incorrectly in their advertising,” he told the City Council’s Land Use, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee earlier this month. “So those kind of things told us we need to help educate hosts and owners of buildings offered for short-term rentals about our requirements.”

Batchelder added that since short-term rentals are advertised almost exclusively online, the department will also seek a contract with an outside vendor who can automatically search for online rental ads for Denver properties and provide information about those ads to help the department’s inspectors track and improve compliance.

“They aggregate that information as a sort of robo inspector who works 24/7, and our inspectors can view that information in the field on their tablets,” he said.

The department also formed an advisory committee, Batchelder said. Members include hosts, non-hosts, industry stakeholders and Denver elected officials. The committee meets monthly to help guide and recommend how the department should administer and enforce policies and regulations.

The city held three public informational sessions in October and November, hosted by the city and Airbnb, which is described as “a community marketplace for people to list, discover, and book unique accommodations around the world — online or from a mobile phone or tablet.”

Airbnb also sends information about Denver’s program to their hosts in the city, Batchelder said, and the city works with other such groups as well to help spread the word.

“Tricky” number to find

An exact number of short-term rentals offered in the city is a moving target, Batchelder said, due mostly to the nature of the practice.

“There have been estimates of 2,000 or 3,000, but it’s tricky because some owners only offer space for rent one week a year,” he noted. “And there can also be multiple listings per host. So we’re not sure how many might be unlicensed on Jan. 1.”

Batchelder said the success of the department’s marketing and advertising campaign will help get a better idea on that number, as will continued work by field inspectors.

“I think it will be interesting to see if the short-term rental industry continues to grow in Denver at the fast rate we’ve seen,” he said.

Complaints led to website upgrade, slogan causes second thoughts

The city’s website for short-term rental registration has recently undergone some changes and upgrades to make the process more user-friendly, and a rental packet can be downloaded with information for renters, Batcheleder said.

“This is the first online license we’ve had in the city, and we think we’re one of the first in the nation to do everything online,” Batchelder said.

Councilman Jolon Clark said he had heard complaints from hosts trying to complete the online registration process, such as getting messages that certain browsers are not allowed to view the site.

Batchelder said that was one key issue the website upgrade addressed.

Two other Council members, Mary Beth Sussman and Chris Herndon, said they had some second thoughts about the slogan for the department’s marketing campaign, “Stay Legit, Den.” Sussman questioned whether the “Den” portion would be confused with Denver International Airport, which has an official abbreviation of “DEN.” Herndon said the slogan made him think of marijuana.

Citywide Communications Adviser Dan Rowland said he and others in the excise and license department wanted a slogan that was “fun and evocative, although we know not everyone will like it.” And it is legal to use the “Den” abbreviation, he added.

“We’ve done a lot of research and brainstorming on this and we think the campaign will be successful,” Rowland said.

“I’m a skeptic along with Councilman Herndon, so I guess we’ll see,” Sussman added.

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