Bernadette Vadurro has a successful career as a professional speaker, but on the side, she’s also one of Santa Fe’s most popular AirBnB hostesses.
Vadurro's is one of more than 500 rental properties in Santa Fe listed on the AirBnB website; she leases out a small casita on her property close to downtown. Follow the driveway over a small acequia, and you're welcomed into a vibrant, green courtyard. A cat wanders over to say hi. The white stucco casita sits in the sun off to the side, a pleasant sight for the weary traveller.
Like other AirBnB hosts, Vadurro provides an affordable alternative to hotel living for the hordes of tourists flocking to the city throughout the year.
"We're happy to help people come and enjoy Santa Fe," she says, showing off her cozy accommodations.
Vadurro makes her guests feel at home by keeping the fridge full and the casita in top shape. This attention to detail has earned her the title of "Superhost" on AirBnB, meaning that more than 80 percent of her guests have given her five-star reviews. She attributes this to working hard at customer service.
"AirBnB makes it very easy to do business," says Vadurro, who shares the property with her husband. "We feel safe about who's coming to stay."
But unlike the vast number who are offering property for short-term rental in Santa Fe, Vadurro holds a business license and a short-term rental license. She pays lodgers taxes to the city, and even though getting the license is sometimes a hassle with all the inspections, she says it's been worth it.
"We should pay our fair share," Vadurro says. "I don't mind."
Since it appears most AirBnB renters do mind, it's leaving cities around the country (and the world) struggling to monitor and collect taxes on the cottage industry.
Years ago, city officials held dozens of public hearings about the topic and settled on issuing a certain number of short-term rental permits and capping how many visits a property is allowed in a year. Rental units in the city limits must also undergo fire inspections and have adequate parking. But enforcement depends on responding to complaints, and officials admit they're not in control.
Santa Fe currently has 387 short-term rental permit holders, and the number of them issued per year has not been changed by the emergence of AirBnB. Given the number of listings on the popular site, it's clear that many are breaking the law. And that number doesn't include other websites for vacation rentals by owners and other private arrangements.
Zachary Shandler, an assistant city attorney, says city rules on short-term rentals do apply to the online rental services, yet he blames privacy controls on the site for making enforcement difficult.
And like many other issues, the city's main enforcement vehicle for illegal short-term rentals is through complaints. Shandler admits the city needs to find a way to keep up with the times. It's not just AirBnB that's new on the scene; players like Uber offer ride-sharing through smartphone apps and outside the government's regulatory eye.
"Municipalities are struggling to keep up with the technology and to be friendly to new entrepreneurs but also to treat them uniformly," he says. "It is a challenge. I think this administration is open to new entrepreneurs and new ideas, and we just need to match them up and treat them uniformly, so everyone has an even playing field."
For those AirBnBs that are on the government's radar, like Vadurro's, city workers are supposed to monitor properties to ensure taxes are paid and safety codes are met. Yet, when SFR sought to interview those workers, only Shandler would talk on the record.
One of the reasons keeping track of unregulated AirBnB hosts is so difficult is the extreme care AirBnB takes in protecting its hosts, whose personal information is hidden from view until a booking is confirmed. The only way to contact a potential host is to send a query with a check-in and check-out date.
Some businesses say they want the city to take a stronger stance on the issue. But others don't see the big deal. Vicki Pozzebon, for one, says AirBnB is a great method of connecting visitors with local life. Pozzebon has travelled a lot using AirBnB and says that she's never felt unsafe. "It's always helped me get to know the neighborhoods and the people a lot faster than being in a hotel," she says.
The former director of the now-defunct Santa Fe Alliance is a big supporter of localism, a movement that promotes keeping money and business local, and she believes that the money AirBnB potentially takes away from hotels still stays here, just in different pockets.
Shandler says the city's position is that fairness should still be implemented for everyone involved.The local hospitality industry is also hoping the state can lead the regulatory charge.
"We want to level the playing field between those who do pay taxes and those who do not," says Randy Randall, head of the city's tourism bureau.
Randall was a supporter of a bill introduced in this year's legislative session that would have required local renters with fewer than three renting units to pay occupancy tax. The bill died on the floor, 32-8.
"Renters from these websites, like AirBnB, VRBO and even Craigslist, are hiding under this exemption," Randall adds.
Some renters who were contacted for comment agreed to speak only under anonymity. Many, except for lacking the permit, still comply with the city ordinance, not renting out their units for more than 30 days. They're using the service as a way to bring in a little extra cash and meet new, interesting people.
One renter, who has been regularly leasing out a room in her house for about a year, says she doesn't see the need to apply for a license but didn't want to be quoted because she admits she's ignoring the law. She reports her AirBnB earnings as income for taxes but doesn't want to deal with lodgers tax.
Yet, the intimacy and local color of home-based lodging is beneficial to Santa Fe's economy, she says, adding, "There's more than enough money and tourists to go around."