Near the end of January, Airbnb, the online lodging company, struck a deal with the state of Colorado to begin collecting sales and lodging taxes from people hoping to rent their homes on the site. But the deal did not apply to every municipality, as many, including those in Summit, are "home-ruled," meaning individual town codes require councils to sign a separate agreement with the company.
The statewide agreement is a step forward and the company has been working with towns in Summit to put a similar tax collection structure in place locally. But the process is slow. Leslie Fischer, the county services manager, said that Airbnb does not have a large staff and contact with the company can be difficult. She reached out to them back in September of 2014. Since then she has been heading the effort in Summit in conjunction with 17 other towns to try and build an agreement with the company.
"When the state signed the agreement, that's what really kind of put the wrench in the system of 'Well, wouldn't it just be easier if Airbnb just remitted for everybody,' and sure it would be. We want to get there," Fischer said.
Property owners must have an accommodation unit license through the town, as well as a license through the state to do short-term rentals. Without a local agreement, town staff members have to search through listings to make sure that the host has the appropriate paperwork to list their space and collect taxes.
The town of Breckenridge has a unique method of license enforcement, sending letters to new property owners and immediately informing them of short-term rental policies.
"We have an education effort on the front end and we also have audit compliance efforts on the back end," said Brian Waldes, the director of finance for Breckenridge.
Because of this, Waldes said that the town has a fairly high compliance rate. Of approximately 3,300 short-term properties, only 15 of them did not have the appropriate license. But high compliance can also make it harder for the town to find properties that aren't collecting taxes.
"It becomes harder when you have a high compliance rate because most of your leads don't take you anywhere," Waldes said.
Efforts to find properties can take time without adequate technology. Chad Most, the revenue specialist in Frisco said that he spends an average of two weeks a year looking through listings to find ones without licenses.
"The process should get easier moving forward should we move forward with any of the third party providers," Most said.
The county put together a request for proposals for tech companies to create software that would help towns search through a multitude of online listings. The hired company has since gone out of business, creating another roadblock for towns. Fischer said they are in the process of looking for a new company to take over.
Fischer said that there are other online data collectors that can help towns get an idea of how many possible listings there are. Airdna, a data and analytics company, collects listing information across more than 5,000 cities. According to the site, Breckenridge has more than 2,400 active Airbnb listings, although Fischer said that some of the numbers on the site are cushioned based of where town limits are measured.
The site also tracks the percentage of how long listings are available to renters, and how long renters actually stay at properties. Between Silverthorne, Breckenridge, Dillon and Frisco, the towns average 39.4 percent of properties that are available to rent for 10 to 12 months out of the year. Nearly 84 percent of customers opt to stay between one and three months on average, according to the site.
For Waldes, the ease of Airbnb and other online rental options poses a concern for the local housing market. Every home available to rent online for months at a time is one less property that could be rented out to a Summit local. Some neighborhood housing authorities have rules for rentals, such as some of the deed-restricted properties, which only allow locals to live there.
"We all really want to understand what impact this online sharing economy is having on long-term housing," Waldes said. "That's part of these compliance efforts is just trying to get our arms around those kinds of statistics. The more we can understand about this the better we can help to answer that question."