City stops accepting vacation-rental applications for Aspen

Property owners who have yet to apply for a short-term rental license are out of luck for 2022.

The emergency moratorium Aspen City Council adopted by a 5-0 vote Wednesday included a prohibition on new applications for city-issued vacation rental permits, which have been required of property owners since late October 2020. The moratorium took effect immediately, but those with STR licenses already in place or had applied for one by Wednesday can breath easily for now. Their licenses — which permit them to rent out their properties for fewer than 30 days — are good through Sept. 30.

With more than 180 applications for STR permits pouring into the city Wednesday, it was evident vacation-rentals community had caught word that the council was poised to put the clamps on issuing new vacation-rental permits. That pushed the total to nearly 1,400 STR permits the city has on the books, officials said.

City Council members said the temporary ban — or as they called it, a “pause” — on the filing of new STRs applications will give them time to digest the short-term vacation rental industry’s impact on Aspen.

“We want to study this thoroughly … we want to make the best decision with the information we have,” said Councilman Ward Hauenstein. “We hope it will do the best we can to preserve our community, the fabric of our community.”

The time also will allow the city and whatever consultants it hires to to align the land use code with the stated intentions of the Aspen Area Community Plan, which most recently was updated in 2012, city leaders said. The AACP — which is a reflection of the community’s goals for employee housing, transportation, communication character and other aspects of living here — was crafted to help guide council policy-making.

“Amend the code to better align it with the AACP,” said Mayor Torre as part of his explanation as to why the City Council wanted to contain the STR industry for now.

Yet the council’s decision, prior to it becoming official with a vote, met fierce opposition from people who called the process rushed and misguided. They said the halt on new STR licenses would be a devastating blow on everyone from those locals who rely on rental revenue from their one- or two-bedroom condos to make ends meet, to those investors who’ve sunk millions into luxury vacation-rental properties. Many speakers also said they believed the council’s collective mind already was set about STRs.

“If your minds are made up, that’s one thing,” said Alexandra George, who works in the vacation rental business. “But I really, really hope that you’ll consider what we’re here to speak about and how the impacts are so broad.”

George was among the chorus of people who said the council’s move on STRs would have wide-ranging negative impacts on the community.

Bill Guth, who started an online petition ahead of the meeting Wednesday and closed it with 647 supporters, said regulating STRs is “restricting people’s livelihoods and damaging people’s livelihoods. … I don’t think you understand the impacts to many of us here.”

The petition, which opposed Ordinance 27 — the official name of the moratorium that also halted both residential and commercial development within city limits — said “those who rely on income from short term rentals to pay their mortgage or expenses are seriously threatened. Those who have a contingent contract to sell their property in one of the best real estate markets ever will likely lose their opportunity.”

Councilwoman Rachel Richards countered that homes are operating as lodges in residential neighborhoods and paying lower taxes than their lodging counterparts.

“These are inequities that are in our system and they are real,” she said, “and I think it’s appropriate for us to take some action.”

Council members said they want to examine all STRs within the city’s various zone districts and their impacts on them. That information will help guide their policy-making regarding putting STR caps on certain zone districts or neighborhoods, among other changes to the industry, they said.