County Might Freeze Out New Short-Term Rentals

Santa Fe County commissioners move to extend moratorium on non-owner-occupied licenses to February

The Santa Fe County Commission will consider whether to extend the county’s moratorium on new short-term rental permits for property owners who don’t live on site.

The board heard Tuesday from consultants at Southwest Planning & Marketing hired to review short-term rental rules that have been in place since November 2022. Commissioners then voted 4-1 to schedule a hearing later this month for public testimony on a plan to extend the moratorium for three months.

When the county adopted its first short-term rental regulations, the ordinance called for a stricter level of annual review and higher fees for existing non-owner-occupied units than those with owner-occupants. It also included a one-year moratorium for new non-owner-occupied short-term rentals if the owner purchased their property after Nov. 26, 2022. An extension to the moratorium, Chris Cordova, partner emeritus of Southwest Planning & Marketing said, will allow county staff and the commission time to consider proposed changes to regulations.

As of Oct. 19, the county has issued 349 permits for short-term rental operators and has estimated using software that as many as 246 are operating without the required permits. While county staff are working to gain a higher rate of compliance and consider other potential adjustments to rules, Cordova said the county should extend its moratorium on new permits for non-owner-occupied rentals.

Even if the county instead loosened rules, however, he said data indicates the number of short-term rentals in the county isn’t likely to grow much.

“Most people that were going to get involved in it are involved in it. It’s leveled off now,” Cordova said. “We don’t see that there’s ever going to be 6,000 short-term rentals. In our opinion, it will stay around 600, if that many.”

The company reviewed literature on national and statewide trends affecting the supply of affordable housing and the impact of short-term rentals; analyzed county data; held phone interviews with stakeholders; and conducted surveys for unincorporated county residents and for STRs operators/applicants.

While its conclusions argue short-term rentals do not have a significant impact on the availability of affordable housing stock in Santa Fe County, the rentals do present both positive and negative influences on traditional and historic communities. For example, some use short-term rentals for economic benefits, including help for long-standing residents to retain their homes in “an increasingly expensive real estate and tax market.” On the negative side, an increase in noise and number of vehicles on the street can impact the quality of life for residents living in homes near short-term rental units.

“The citizens of the unincorporated parts of Santa Fe County don’t really want short term rentals to go away, but it’s just important to control them,” Cordova said.

Consultants recommended the county impose density control and additional limits on non-owner-occupied short term rental units near the Santa Fe city limits and in other areas, but deferred to county staff to define the appropriate boundaries.

District 1 Commissioner Justin S. Greene was the sole vote against publishing public notice for a future vote to extend the moratorium date to February 2024.

“We gave people a promise that the moratorium would be lifted in November, and there is no quantification of what would happen if we didn’t extend this,” Greene said. “Would it be 200, 500, 5,000 homes that would suddenly rush the gates to get grandfathered in? I don’t think so; I think it’d probably be a few people who have purchased homes in past year that say ‘I’ve waited until November, now you’ve told me this was an opportunity to get licensed’ and so on, and so I do not actually believe that at this point extending this is fair.”

Greene noted he owns several short-term rentals licensed and regulated by the City of Santa Fe.

Board Chair and District 2 Commissioner Anna Hansen said the purpose of the three-month extension to the moratorium is to allow county staff the time to weigh recommendations and finish the process, adding that Greene’s suggestion would not be fair to them.

“This has been a huge undertaking for staff. They have done a tremendous amount of work. I think it is incumbent upon us to give them that time to integrate what we have gotten in this report and take on this moratorium to allow them to do the work in an environment that’s not creating more work for them all of the sudden.” Hansen said. Kris Leslie-Curtis, president of a group called the Santa Fe Short Term Rental Alliance, told commissioners its members oppose extending the ordinance because it “has hurt the real estate market” and “it is not pro-economic growth.”

Curtis says she runs a non-owner-occupied rental and wants her property treated with “the same respect” as others.

Meanwhile, the county continues to fight a lawsuit filed by a group of homeowners in US District Court last summer over the short-term rental ordinance. The homeowners argue that the regulation conflicts with state law that says the use of a dwelling remains residential and should not be treated as a commercial use, among other claims. The county filed a second motion to dismiss the case on Oct. 23.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story has been updated.

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