Published in the March 29, 2018, edition of the Lyons Recorder.
COMMENTARY: What’s the future of affordable housing in Lyons?
Getting started with vacation rentals in the Town of Lyons
by Amy Reinholds
Last fall, the Lyons Board of Trustees unanimously approved an ordinance that lets homeowners rent out rooms to vacationers in the homes where they live. This Thursday, March 29, at 5:30 p.m., at Lyons Town Hall, Town Planner Paul Glasgow will give a basics overview of how the licensing process works for vacation hosts in Lyons.
According to the email announcement, the Town of Lyons short-term rental licensing application period is from April 1 to April 30, with enforcement beginning May 2018. Glasgow and town staff are inviting any homeowners who want to operate short-term vacation rentals to join the evening’s “Basics of Short-term Rentals” event, to understand the licensing process and get questions answered. [For results of this meeting, see Update on vacation rentals in Town of Lyons residential zones]
In 2017, short-term vacation rentals (renting to guests for shorter time periods than a month-to-month lease) were not permitted by right on residential zoned land (neighborhoods where most of us live). Before this new town ordinance went into effect January 1, to legally rent out rooms as short-term vacation rentals in residential (R-1 or R-2) zones in Lyons, homeowners were required to complete a longer process to apply to run a Bed & Breakfast business, with several steps and public hearings before the Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC) and the trustees. (On A1, A2, and Estate zoned land, Bed & Breakfast businesses with six or fewer units are allowed as a use by right, if the homeowners have a business license and the rented units are in the main house. Lodging is also allowed in commercial zoned land, including the CEC zone).
Now the legal process for R-1 and R-2 zoned land is much shorter, with short-term rentals allowed as a use by right instead of the longer conditional use process for a Bed & Breakfast business. However, homeowners are required to get a short-term vacation rental business license, to comply with safety-based requirements such as certifying they have smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and fire extinguishers, and to acknowledge that the Lyons Fire Protection District may require an inspection.
You could call this my “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” column. I read about communities with unmanaged short-term vacation rentals that dealt with a new problem of fewer longer-term rentals that local employees can afford, and I was concerned in the past few years about short-term vacation rentals in the Town of Lyons. I spoke at both PCDC and trustees meetings advising against policies that would cause spaces previously rented to local employees to turn into vacation lodging instead, removing housing stock in an already high-demand rental market. However, I will be attending the Thursday night meeting, not just to cover it for my column, but because I’m interested in how to become a legal vacation rental host in the Town of Lyons. Two weeks ago, my husband and I moved to a house that is zoned R-2 and has a suite in the basement that was used by the previous owners’ children. We are considering using it as a short-term rental, trying out renting the downstairs in our home. I support getting a short-term rental license and following the Town of Lyons ordinance, because we won’t be taking away a space used as a long-term rental. I’m looking forward to learning the details about how to have a short-term rental that complies with the Town of Lyons ordinance.
The PCDC worked with Town of Lyons planning staff on the changes to town code for more than a year, including gathering input from vacation rental hosts. After hearing public comments at an August public hearing, the PCDC voted to recommend that the trustees add and amend town code to allow some short-term vacation rental use by right. In September 2017, the trustees agreed, with additional changes to the final ordinance that was approved.
For homeowners to obtain the required license from the Town of Lyons, short-term rentals must meet the following standards:
- The proposed short-term rental must be the principal residence of the homeowner, and the homeowner must occupy the premise of the short-term rental for at least nine months per calendar year.
- The homeowner must self-certify that design and safety standards are met.
- The homeowner must obtain a Colorado sales tax license and collect, report, and pay sales tax (or a contract from a third-party agency like AirBnb or VRBO to collect, report, and pay sales tax on the homeowner’s behalf).
Also, if ballot question 1A passes, it includes a Town of Lyons $2 per night occupation tax for lodging, like many other municipalities have (but lower). I support this added tax, as a possible vacation rental host, and I encourage Lyons voters to vote yes on ballot question 1A in our April 3 election. It will raise the costs that a vacationer pays by a small amount (lower than other places I’ve stayed on AirBnb), and it will help our town cover the added impacts of tourists, so our town doesn’t have to take money away from the what we need to cover the services for all of our year-round residents. [Update 4/4/2018: This short-term rental tax passed 496 to 177 ]
- The homeowner must submit the required application form, safety certification form, and associated fees. According to the Town of Lyons website, applicants must submit a Lyons STR License Application form, along with the $100 license fee, and a $75 new application fee. Following the short-term rental’s first licensed year, the renewal application fee will be $50.
Submitted short-term rental license applications will be reviewed for compliance, in accordance with the Lyons Municipal Code, and a decision on the application’s approval will be made within 45 days, according to the Town of Lyons website. More information is available at www.townoflyons.com/ShortTermRentals, and at this the March 29 meeting at 5:30 p.m. at Town Hall.
These changes apply only to short-term vacation rentals in the Town of Lyons. People who own homes outside Lyons town limits are subject to the specific regulations for their county (Boulder or Larimer). Even within town limits, it’s important to know that some homeowners associations and deed-restricted affordable housing have more restrictive rules than Town of Lyons ordinances.
I recently looked back at a column I wrote in August of last year at Top 3 things you can do to support affordable housing where I encouraged homeowners to be landlords and rent to employees of local businesses. My husband and I are doing that with our original house in town. Instead of selling it, we are renting to an employee of a business in the Town of Lyons who is not yet able to afford to buy a home in Lyons. I would love to see future Town of Lyons meetings, like the one Thursday night for short-term rentals, to share advice and information with landlords and promote more long-term rentals in town.
The solution to the affordable housing problem is not just to have more market-rate rentals. We need subsidized rentals that are permanently limited to be only at thirty percent of incomes of people who work service jobs in Lyons. My columns cover a variety of options for affordable housing for all members of our community, not just those of us who have the ability and the finances to purchase homes in Lyons.
This column is a weekly commentary (opinion column) in the Lyons Recorder about affordable housing after the September 2013 flood disaster in Lyons. The Town of Lyons lost about seventy-six to ninety-four flood-destroyed homes, and a 2015 proposal for using part of Bohn Park to build subsidized, affordable Boulder County Housing Authority rentals and some Habitat for Humanity for-sale affordable homes (a total of fifty to seventy units) was rejected in a town vote, 614 to 498. The only post-flood affordable housing actually in the construction phase is at Second Avenue and Park Street where Habitat for Humanity of the St. Vrain Valley is building six homes (in three duplexes) on land the non-profit purchased at the end of 2016. If you have any questions, comments, or complaints about this column, please contact me directly at areinholds @hotmail.com. For a history of post-flood efforts for affordable housing in Lyons, you can read previous columns from both Lyons-area newspapers posted on my blog at lyonscoloradonews.wordpress.com.