NEWS

Winter Park joins crackdown on vacation rental scofflaws

Date: Aug. 15th, 2010
Contact: Reid Armstrong

Beginning this fall, Winter Park hopes to begin participating in a Colorado Association of Ski Towns (CAST) initiative to crack down on illegal vacation rentals.

It is estimated hundreds of thousands of dollars are lost each year in Colorado through private homeowners who rent out their properties through websites without proper business licensing and without collecting the necessary lodging and accommodations tax.

“They are reaping the benefit of staying in a resort location and not giving anything back,” said Town Clerk Cat Petersen. “Those homeowners who are not complying put those who do at a disadvantage.”

CAST Executive Director Joyce Burford said the group is in contract negotiations with a vendor developing a method to hunt for nightly property rentals online and cross-reference them with town business and tax records. The contract is not yet finalized, Burford said, and details have not been released about how the towns will pay for the service, but the hope is to finalize a contract with the vendor at CAST's meeting later this month, Burford said.

“The goal is to come up with new names that have not been identified,” she said.

“Winter Park will definitely be involved in the program,” said Town Manager Drew Nelson.

The vendor, who will work for CAST on behalf of all participating Colorado ski towns, will track down vacation rental violators on a scale that has not been possible before.

“It's difficult to track locally,” Petersen said. “To spend staff time on the Internet trolling sites is a huge drain on the resources.”

Once the vendor is up and running, perhaps by October, Winter Park and other Colorado ski towns will be better able to track vacation rental properties being advertised online to determine whether they are in compliance with town code.

Grace period
In preparation, Winter Park Town Council approved on Aug. 3 an amnesty program to allow people to come into compliance with the town code, business licensing and tax requirements without penalty.

“We like to believe that people are not reporting because they don't realize they need to. This gives them a chance to come into compliance without any repercussions,” Petersen said, adding: “This will even the playing field for those who are complying.”

The town's combined lodging and sales tax is 5 percent. The amnesty program will end Oct. 31. At that point, Nelson said, the town will go after any willful violators to the full extent of the law.

“There is a second prong to this,” Burford said. In July, a letter went out on behalf of CAST, the Colorado Municipal League and the Colorado Department of Revenue to major vacation rental website owners to inform them of a new Colorado law that just went into effect.

That law, authored by state Sen. Dan Gibbs (D–Silverthorne) and state Rep. Christine Scanlan (D–Summit County), requires property owners and their agents to file a report that includes contact information and a list of all property to Colorado county assessors. The legislation further defines “agent” to include website listing services, meaning that sites like VRBO.com would be required to send the county assessor identifying information on people renting out property on their websites.

CAST is working with county assessors across the state to encourage them to request this information and to share it with the towns inside their counties.

“Summit County is a great example of where a system like this is already in place and the assessor and the towns are sharing information for this purpose,” Burford said.

Getting website owners included in the bill was a huge coup for CAST and its members.

“The question is — are they going to comply?” Burford said. Debate continues across the nation as to whether companies based online are beholden to state law.