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Webber says Santa Fe looking at short-term rental changes

SANTA FE — Santa Fe city government is considering setting limits on the number of short-term rentals one owner can operate and making it easier to go after hosts who aren’t paying gross receipts and lodgers taxes by framing the violations as civil matters rather than criminal, Mayor Alan Webber said Wednesday.

Webber said the city views short-term rentals as a way for owners of homes and casitas to make money from vacant space.

“It’s not supposed to be an industry,” with ownership concentrated in just a few hands, Webber said.

A study for the city funded by the Thornburg Foundation earlier this year said that just 15 hosts account for 381 short-term rental units in Santa Fe.

The mayor made his comments during a panel discussion on the Northern New Mexico housing outlook at a Regional Economic Development Initiative Summit held at the Hilton Buffalo Thunder.

The city’s short-term rental regulations allow up to 1,000 permits to be issued in residential districts. However, according to IPX1031, a national company that assists with the financing, sale and purchase of second homes through tax-deferred property exchanges, Santa Fe now has 1,627 active Airbnb listings, up from 1,444 calculated in the Thornburg study.

That makes the City Different No. 12 in Airbnb units per capita among U.S. cities, according to the report issued earlier this month. Critics maintain short-term rentals drive up housing costs, by reducing the stock of standard homes, and that they change the residential character of neighborhoods.

During the conference, Webber noted that last summer the city entered into a contract with a private company that will search Airbnb and other social media sites to identity short-term rental units that may be operating without city permits. Depending on whether they are in residential or commercial districts, short-term rentals are required to pay an annual fee of either $325 or $100 as well as taxes.

According to the Thornburg report, the city is losing $3.8 million a year in unpaid taxes from nonpaying short-term rental operators.

Santa Fe apparently has never taken a formal enforcement action against a short-term rental host for not being registered. In a recent email in response to Journal questions, city spokeswoman Lilia Chacon said although Santa Fe hasn’t “taken formal enforcement action against short-term rental units that operate without permits, several dozen units come into compliance each year after receiving warnings from city staff.”

The city’s Land Use Department is currently working to reconcile old and new records to determine how many short-term rental permits have been issued, Chacon said. A preliminary estimate is that between 850 and 950 active permits are in effect, including between 800 and 850 in residential zoning districts, Chacon said.