Fall color along Red Mountain Pass south of Ouray Colo., Tuesday morning Oct. 1, 2019. (William Woody, Special to The Colorado Sun)

As the city of Ouray works to crack down on illegal short-term rentals, Ouray County is considering ways to improve its own enforcement, potentially by outsourcing that work.

The county allows 100 active short-term rental licenses, County Planning Director Mark Castrodale said, all of which are currently issued. But they have no way to know how many rentals are operating illegally without a license beyond that number, he said, and his office doesn’t have the manpower to look into it.

“We don’t have the staff,” he said.

With the boom in real estate and construction, the Land Use and Planning office is “lucky we keep up with our day-to-day workload,” Castrodale said, and doesn’t have time to monitor Airbnb and VRBO listings looking for unlicensed listings.

He told county commissioners in April his department has seen a 300 percent increase in building permits compared to a year ago.

The office also handles code enforcement issues, including complaints about marijuana operations.His office handles new applications for the licenses when they become available, and maintains a five-person waiting list for licenses.

They respond to complaints about licensed short-term rentals when needed, but they aren’t actively looking to find unlicensed rentals operating illegally.

“There are companies out there that do that for you,” Castrodale said, which could make it possible to increase enforcement.

He anticipated there would be discussion in the county about outsourcing it to take on that workload.

This story first appeared in The Ouray County Plaindealer.

Simply identifying the unlicensed rentals would be just the start of addressing the issue, though: if an outside company found, by searching online listings, that there were hundreds operating illegally, the county would face the same problem of insufficient staff and time to send letters and take enforcement actions on each one.

County Commissioner Jake Niece said he started looking into the issue in February and plans to propose the county hire one of those companies to take on enforcement, in addition to ultimately revising the short-term rental ordinance.

The complaint-driven enforcement system is “not really the best case enforcement scenario, because it forces people to kind of tell on their neighbors,” he said. “That has led to a culture of ignoring a lot of the land use ordinances, including the short-term rental ordinance.”

Commissioners currently have their hands full, including revising marijuana ordinances after approving a six-month moratorium on new marijuana operations in May, he said, putting a revision of short-term rental rules farther in the future, but stepping up enforcement could happen sooner.

“I do think it’s worth enforcing the current ordinance that is on the books,” he said, by outsourcing enforcement.

Services from these companies range from searching websites to compile information about the listings to taking on enforcement actions, such as assessing penalties. Some also can manage the rental permitting itself, Niece said.

An April 2021 survey by the Colorado Association of Ski Towns showed a mix of enforcement methods ranging from municipal staff to third party operators.

Crested Butte uses the STR Helper software to generate lists of noncompliant properties, while Durango, Estes Park and Salida use LodgingRevs for compliance efforts. Breckenridge uses the company, which is based in Durango, to run a phone line for short-term rental complaints.

Summit County uses Host Compliance to run its permitting system and complaint management; as of March, they had nearly 4,000 active permits, according to the survey.

Niece said companies making sales pitches have estimated there could be dozens of unlicensed rentals in the county, though he hasn’t verified those numbers.Castrodale declined to speculate on the number of rentals operating illegally. “I don’t know, but I would be very interested in knowing that number,” he said.

Niece plans to discuss it with Commissioners Ben Tisdel and Lynn Padgett at a work session on July 20.I

n Ouray, Community Development Coordinator Lily Oswald told the City Council there are eight active vacation rentals in the city that are unlicensed and not paying the 3 percent municipal lodging tax.

The councilors proposed a set of penalties including a fine of $10,000 per year per rental unit and requiring taxes be paid retroactively to 2019, when the city began licensing the rentals. Owners operating illegally will also be banned from applying for a license for five years.

The city does not currently cap short-term rentals. The county has a limit of 100, all of which are currently issued, while Ridgway has a limit of 50 licenses and 25 currently issued for short-term rental homes.

There are four licenses currently issued for single rooms rented within owner-occupied homes which are not counted toward the town’s cap.