Denver homeowner wants city to alter policies on short-term rental, tiny house

DENVER - Should the city of Denver allow homeowners in all neighborhoods to temporarily rent their homes to visitors?

One South Park Hill resident, who used a website to find customers, was given until May 1 to stop renting her home to short-term tenants.

The order came from Nissa Rost-Rothman'sneighborhood investigator, who originally responded to a complaint about a tiny house in Rost-Rothman's backyard. Rost-Rothman asserted that her tiny house, a 22-foot-long mobile apartment, was not violating any city codes.

While investigating the tiny home, the department found that Rost-Rothman was using the homesharing website AirBnB.com to rent her main house. She was planning to use the site to also rent out the tiny home. The city modified the cease-and-desist order, changing the wording of the initial violation about the tiny house and adding a new one about homesharing, saying that city "district uses do not include bed and breakfast or lodging accommodations."

AirBnB.com is a website where homeowners can temporarily rent out houses or individual rooms, and travelers can find a place to stay in thousands of places around the world. More than 700 homeowners in Denver use AirBnB.com to rent their homes out to temporary guests.

But in Rost-Rothman's neighborhood, Denver's zoning code prohibits the rental of all or part of a residence for terms of less than 30 days.

"It's the city's position that transitional, overnight rentals are not conducive to the character of a single family neighborhood," said Andrea Burns, spokeswoman for the City of Denver's Community Planning and Development department. "My concerns about this property are that there's a lot of different balls in the air. The structure on the back is a whole other issue."

Rost-Rothman started an online petition to gather local support for renting her home. She said that the laws in Denver don't explicitly allow for homesharing, but don't prohibit it either.

"This means city officials can subjectively interpret the law," Rost-Rothman wrote on the petition site. "Beyond that, the Neighborhood Inspector has come banging on my door, and delivered multiple invalid citations to me that are a waste of public resources."

"It's not the [city's] intent to have that type of activity in that neighborhood," Burns said. "Commercial activity in those neighborhoods is minimal intentionally. There's different neighborhoods where we have that."

Burns also says that district's zoning codes also do not allow the building of the tiny house.

According to the cease-and-desist order, the tiny house is violating building codes because it was being constructed on a lot that is too small – 3,300 square feet where the required minimum is 5,500 square feet.

"My long term goal was to find and purchase land, somewhere rural but not too far from Denver, move it and hook it up there, and rent that out on AirBnB," Rost-Rothman wrote in an email to 7NEWS. "Colorado has a thriving tourist industry, and this would be a way to tap into that. My hosting has been such a rewarding experience. I just wanted to grow that."

Burns noted that the tiny house is still on the property, more than five months after the original cease-and-desist order was given to Rost-Rothman.

"We have not seen any significant changes that would actually bring the property into compliance," Burns said.

She also said that the tiny house was built without zoning or building permits. Under these circumstances, the structure would not be allowed on any residential property in Denver.

-- City policy --

On April 1, the appeal hearing for Rost-Rothman’s property concluded that cease-and-desist orders for both the tiny house and the homesharing were valid. To comply with the order, Rost-Rothman changed her AirBnB.com ad to require a minimum rental term of 30 days, but said that she’s concerned about how this order will affect her long-term.

"This is my primary source of income," Rost-Rothman wrote in an email to 7NEWS. "I need to maximize that."

A search showed that more than 700 locations are listed in the Denver area on airbnb.com. Burns said she did not have any information about how many other homesharers are being asked to stop their rental operations due to the district's zoning issues, but that there are more.

Burns also said that the committee for city planning and development has not discussed changing the codes to allow for homesharing, but that other parts of the city may have. A recent Denver Post opinion piece by Denver City Councilwoman Mary Beth Susman addressed how the "sharing economy" could affect Denver's profit margin and culture.

In a sharing economy, people borrow, rent and trade instead of buying and owning things. Homesharing introduces issues such as the taxes, fees, permits that hotel chains are responsible for, but don't quite apply for the casual agreements made in a sharing economy.

"I think anyone who is going to rent a property under these conditions should check the local laws," Burns said. "Every time we've taken action it's been in response to a complaint."

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