Updates with fourth person charged.
Two realtors each facing a felony charge for allegedly breaking Denver’s short-term rental rules are due to enter pleas next month.
Meanwhile, the Denver District attorney has charged two other people. If it’s not a crackdown, it’s at least a moment for anyone who wants to jump into the short-term rental business to consider getting acquainted with the regulations.
Stacy and Alexander Neir, who are married and partners in a real estate business, appeared Thursday for a brief court hearing at which their arraignments were set for Aug. 26. They have not been jailed or required to post bonds as the case proceeds.
Dan Recht, the attorney representing Alexander Neir, said after Thursday’s hearing that the couple has been in discussions with the district attorney’s office about the charge they face: attempting to influence a public servant by means of deceit.
“We don’t believe the Neirs deserve to have a criminal record,” Recht said. “We think they are not guilty of the pending charges and we’re trying to convince the DA of that.”
DA spokeswoman Carolyn Tyler announced on July 8 that an attorney named Aaron Elinoff was the third person facing the same felony charge, in a different short-term rental case. The charge against a fourth person in yet another case, Spencer Chase, was announced July 31. Tyler would not comment further on whether discussions were under way about any changes to the charge the Neir’s face.
The defendants in all the cases are accused of violating the requirement that the owner of a short-term rental unit live at the rental as the primary residence. The provision, included in regulations on short-term rentals that Denver adopted in 2016, was an effort to ensure that the supply of permanent homes in a city with an affordable housing crisis wasn’t threatened by too many properties being converted to short-term rentals. A short-term rental landlord might be someone who travels often or just rents out one room of a primary residence. Licenses to operate short-term rentals have been required since Jan. 1, 2017 and cost $25.
Attorney Recht said Thursday that it was clear the city was “aggressively pursuing these cases.”
Police affidavits in the Neir and Elinoff cases show Denver Excise and Licenses is paying attention and following up:
- A licensing technician noticed the address on Elinoff’s driver’s license did not match the Villa Park address on his March application for a short-term rental license. That led to visits by an inspector to Villa Park and to a West Colfax address linked to Elinoff and to chats with neighbors at both locations. On one visit, the inspector found Elinoff doing garden work at the West Colfax address. The inspector reported that he told her he lived there; he later told another Denver Excise and Licenses official that he had not said that.
- Alexander Neir applied in March for a short-term rental license for a property in Jefferson Park. A Denver Excise and Licenses technician found that the property was owned by a limited liability company that listed a Stapleton address as its headquarters and Stacy Neir as its agent with the secretary of state. Stacy Neir gave the Jefferson Park site as her personal address in her secretary of state paperwork, but she had a short-term rental license for a third property, in Berkeley. The excise and licensing technician conducted a Google search and found a YouTube video of the couple talking about living in Stapleton. As in the Elinoff case, inspectors visited addresses linked to the Neirs and spoke to the neighbors.
In the Chase case, according to the DA’s office, Excise and Licenses received an email from an employee of Chase asking whether he could rent a property for several months even though it was not his primary residence. Denver Excise and Licenses staff replied that the property being rented must be the applicant’s primary residence. Chase was later sent an affidavit that he completed, notarized and returned attesting that the Corry-Merrill property he wanted to rent on a short-term basis was his primary residence.
Excise and Licenses officials also asked the Neirs and Elinoff to complete notarized affidavits attesting to their primary residences. That step is unusual, said Eric Escudero, spokesman for Excise and Licenses.
Escudero said inspectors are sent out only when inconsistencies are found and requests for affidavits made only if a strong possibility exists that the property proposed for or already being offered as a short-term rental is not the landlord’s primary residence.
The affidavit request is “not meant to trap them,” Escudero said. “What we’re trying to do is give them one final opportunity to get in compliance and make them understand that these laws are there for a reason.”
He said some people have responded by surrendering a license or deciding not to have a short-term rental.
Denver began asking for affidavits in some cases in March, about a month before new short-term rules were announced that included provisions for revoking licenses for short-term rental properties seen as affecting public health, safety or welfare.
“Our No. 1 goal is to protect the integrity of our neighborhoods,” Escudero said.
“This model is developing. It’s pretty much a new business model for the city.”
“This is an issue that is affecting major cities across the nation,” he added. “It isn’t only a Denver problem.”
Denver submits details on its short-term rental licensees to Host Compliance, a Seattle-based company that scans websites such as Airbnb and VRBO. Host Compliance has found that about three-quarters of the short-term rental properties advertised in Denver are licensed. That compliance rate has increased 25 percent in the last year, Escudero said.
More people are also getting into the short-term rental business. Escudero said active short-term rental licenses have increased 28 percent in the last year. Denver now has 2,683 active short-term rental licenses, close to the all-time high of 2,707 high reached on June 24.
Escudero’s department can fine an unlicensed landlord up to $999. He said his department prefers to get people into compliance without resorting to fines — or handing cases over to law enforcement.
He said about three complaints come in a week about short-term rentals. Complaints can be filed to the city’s 311 line.
Most of the calls are about disturbances in the neighborhood. But people have called to report they did not believe the owners of short-term rental units were using them as their primary residences.
“Some people know the rules and they know the law,” Escudero said.