20 Boulder homeowners using AirBnB and VRBO get cease-and-desist letters

BOULDER, Colo. - The City of Boulder says it sent out more than a dozen cease-and-desist letters to property owners renting out space in their homes through AirBnB or VRBO after receiving complaints online.

The letters came from Boulder's zoning enforcement office and warns the homeowner that they live in an area where zoning does not allow the short-term rentals.

A Boulder homeowner who received one of the letters, and asked us not to use her name, said she was surprised by the letter.

"I was also kind of angry because I don't know who this person is, I mean this is my livelihood," she said.

The woman who offers two rooms on AirBnB, said the short term rentals provide her with enough income to stay at home with her children.

"It's been great income, but it's definitely work," she said.

Mike Banuelos, a spokesman for City of Boulder's Public Works, said the City sent out 20 letters after a woman filed a total of 25 complaints online. Five of those complaints were investigated and found not to be valid.

Banuelos said this is not the first time Boulder has sent out warnings like this, and likely won't be the last.

"These businesses aren't licensed so essentially they're not legal, they're not paying into the system the same way as regular businesses do," he explained.

The Boulder City Attorney's Office says, "There are two major policy issues associated with these types of rentals."

The office explains these homes are not subject to code inspections and licensing and hotels and motels pay a higher tax. The policy is listed on the Boulder City Attorney's website.

The other issue involves zoning since residential areas in Boulder often don't permit hotels or temporary stays of less than a month.

Mary Ann Mahoney, Executive Director of the Boulder Convention and Visitors Bureau, said local hotels she's spoken with do not feel these sites are competition since the market already exists, but instead are lobbying for a level playing field.

She also said there are concerns for traveler's safety.

"The consumer wants these great places to stay -- they want to stay in a neighborhood. I don't think we want barriers to that, we just want to make sure that they're safe and it's legal," she said.

Boulder Public Works said the City always strives for compliance in these types of situations, but if a homeowner refuses to stop renting out rooms in their homes they could face fines, citations or a summons.

In Boulder's "Cease and Desist" letters, the city says property owners are violating city code. CALL7 Investigator Keli Rabon wanted to know if the ordinance actually applies to the properties in question.

"The city ordinance actually defines what exactly is a bed & breakfast and the ordinance actually defines what is a hotel," legal analyst David Beller said. "I think when those definitions were being drafted, no one at that time thought that somebody's personal residence would somehow fit into those definitions."

Beller added, "They may have the authority to make them stop. The reality is, the current ordinances don't really fit this situation. So no one is certain as to whether this is legal or not legal."  

As for the woman who received one of the letters, she said she would be happy to start paying taxes. She's also ready for the short term rental market to come out of the shadows.

"Until it actually becomes something that is legal, something that is regulated, we're in this gray area, that I'm really uncomfortable with, and I know a lot of other people are uncomfortable with it," she said.

The District Attorney's office plans to bring the issue to the Boulder City Council in the first quarter of 2015. 

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