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Santa Fe City Council votes to revise the city’s short-term rental ordinance

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Following a marathon of motions, amendments, public speakers and discussion, the Santa Fe City Council overwhelmingly approved sweeping changes for the city’s hundreds of short-term rentals (STRs) in the wee hours of Thursday morning.

The changes are aimed at increasing enforcement in a city with numerous STRs, which use such services as Airbnb and Vrbo to rent rooms, and help to curb the large number of rentals that operate with no permits.

Among the biggest changes in the new ordinance, passed on an 8-1 vote after more than five hours of discussion, is limiting the distribution of STR permits to one per person, while maintaining the city’s previous cap of 1,000 total permits citywide.

The ordinance also requires STRs to be no closer than 50 feet to an existing rental. Owners can rent their units once in a seven-day period. Each unit must also have an operator in the city, though it does not have to be the owner.

Sponsors of the ordinance argued that limiting permits to one per person would help curtail rampant speculation in the Santa Fe housing market, where companies and out-of-state investors buy property to rent out as vacation rentals.

“This is not a mom-and-pop operation any more – it’s become an industry,” said Councilor Carol Romero-Wirth, one of the bill’s sponsors.

Proponents also argued they wanted to maintain a community feel in neighborhoods flooded with STRs, especially in areas surrounding the popular Santa Fe Plaza. Assistant City Attorney Sally Paez said some areas were “being turned into Swiss cheese” due to the density of vacation rentals.

STRs have long been a controversial topic in Santa Fe, with many arguing they limit access to housing in one of the nation’s tightest real estate markets.

While there are 875 permitted STRs in Santa Fe, the actual number is unclear. Pre-pandemic figures estimated there could be between 500-600 rentals operating under the radar, although Land Use Director Eli Isaacson said many have closed their listings during the pandemic.

Dozens logged in to the virtual meeting to offer their comments on the proposal. Many of them own STRs and argued the restrictions hurt property owners who are already struggling due to a steep decline in tourism. Some said the city should focus more on property owners not following the law rather than add new restrictions.

Those in favor of more restrictions argued the ordinance didn’t go far enough and said the city should require owners of STRs to be residents in Santa Fe.

Those with existing permits will be grandfathered into the new ordinance.

Some councilors voiced a series of criticisms of the ordinance, pushing the council meeting well past the eight-hour mark, but only Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler voted against its passing.

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