The Santa Fe City Council passed a bill to amend its existing short term rental ordinance after midnight on Wednesday that both clarifies and tightens the existing rules, but not without hours of controversial debate and dozens of comments from short term rental owners in the community.
The measure was adopted in the wee hours of Thursday morning with a single vote against from Joanne Vigil Coppler. The sponsors of the bill—Councilors Renee Villarreal, Carol Romero-Wirth, Signe Lindell, and Mayor Alan Webber voted in favor of the bill. They were joined by Councilors Jamie Cassutt-Sanchez Roman Abeyta, Chris Rivera and Mike Garcia.
Lindell said the co-sponsors met regularly for over eight months leading up to the vote to work through all possible scenarios, and delayed bringing the bill to the City Council for months while they considered dozens of comments received after public Land Use Department meeting in the summer.
"This committee spent a huge amount of time trying to find middle ground to try to preserve communities and trying to preserve a business model that many people have invested in," she said. "It is a very, very fine needle we are trying to thread with this ordinance."
Villarreal and others said that the rule reflects a changing vacation rental industry that is becoming increasingly dominated by out-of-state business interests and second home owners.
"At one time the industry was characterized a lot more by our local mom and pop short-term rental operators…but over time has become a lot more commercialized," said Assistant City Attorney Sally Paez.
The changes primarily clarify existing portions of the ordinance that were ambiguous and led to uneven application by the department in the past, and not much will change for existing permit holders who will be "grandfathered in" and will not be subject to all of the new restrictions.
The new rule will impose greater changes on those seeking permits in the future.
Most of the changes will also only apply to short-term rentals in residential zoned areas, which are subject to much stricter restrictions. These must have permits and are subject to a 1,000-unit total cap for the city.
There is no limit on the number of commercially zoned short-term rentals, which require registration but do not require a permit.
The new law limits the number of permitted rentals to one "per natural person," meaning that permits cannot be given out to companies and one individual cannot be responsible for more than one unit. Again, this only applies to new permit seekers. Individuals who already own several units will be allowed to keep them. Permits must have local owner or manager.
The regulation also reinforces current law that limits visits to one per seven day period, but exempts a two month period from November to January for the holiday period.
Perhaps the most impactful change will be new regulations for host platforms like AirBNB that require rental owners to display city permit numbers on their listings and remove a listing if the owner is identified as not playing by the rules.
Garcia and Vigil Coppler brought up multiple concerns about the bill, enforcement issues top among them.
"This should be our priority number one" said Garcia, "right now we are dealing with the wrong challenge."
Cassutt-Sanchez emphasized that the new rules will make enforcement easier due to the clarifications in the permitting and regulating process and compliments an earlier bill passed in the summer that allow the city to issue civil penalties for violations of the rules.
For his part, Rivera raised reservations about the 1,000-unit cap on short-term rentals when Santa Fe has a serious long-term housing shortage, worrying that these units would take homes off the market that could otherwise house Santa Fe residents.
According to Land Use Director Eli Isaacson, there are currently around 850 permitted short-term rentals in the city, leaving no more than 150 permits up for grabs. He estimates that there are also around 250 short-term rentals operating illegally without proper permitting. New webscraping software will help the city identify those in the city that are operating without the proper permits and registrations.
The governing body also shot down an amendment by Vigil Coppler, among several she introduced, to dedicate a portion of the tax revenues from short-term rentals to the city's affordable housing trust fund in a split vote. The councilors who voted against it said they'd prefer to have a more in depth discussion on how to fund the affordable housing trust fund from various sources than push the measure through now.
"This doesn't mean we don't support affordable housing, it doesn't mean we don't care about the people in our community who are really struggling, its that we bear the responsibility to take the time to study the options and then go from there," Romero-With said.