Proposed rules spur debate over short-term rentals in Santa Fe County

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SANTA FE, N.M. — Santa Fe County Commissioners met Tuesday to discuss proposed regulations on short-term rentals in the county.

This is the third time commissioners have put up a proposal like this. They say the goal is not to phase out short-term rentals, but to make sure they’re all registered and contributing to the communities they’re benefiting from.

A 2020 report shows Santa Fe, alone, is currently short more than 7,300 affordable rental units.

However, operators believe they’re being blamed for something that’s above their heads.

“There’s an idea that, if you can just force private property owners to do something different than they’re currently doing that, that’s going to add to alleviating this problem,” said Heather Norquist, a rental operator.

Short-term rental operators are pushing back against the proposed regulations and the idea that they’re behind an affordable housing shortage.

One operator, Buck McKinney, stated, “To put it simply, the ordinance seems to be a solution looking for a problem.”

The Santa Fe County Commission has proposed business requirements, occupancy limits, neighborhood notifications, water restrictions and more. There would also be higher fees and more rules for operators who don’t live at their rental properties – like those who have it as a second or third home.

Some operators feel these regulations are unfair.

“The proposed ordinance also paints with a broad brush including, across the board, without regard for the very different settings, in which STRs may be operating across the 1,911 square miles encompassed by Santa Fe County,” McKinney said.

Despite the pushback from operators like McKinney, county commissioners say their proposed rules are much more lenient than Santa Fe’s proposed rules. The city’s proposed rules limit the total number of short-term rentals, how many operators can manage and how far owners can live from those rentals.

Many speakers asked about county-specific data related to short-term rentals, as there are an estimated 1,600 short-term rentals in the city – far shy of the 7,300 affordable rental units reportedly needed.

“I wonder if there’s any research to substantiate some of these concerns of short-term rentals on our water, our septic tanks, and all that,” said Kugul Amber, a business owner.

Property owners say that, until the research comes in, they don’t believe it’s their responsibility to fix the housing crisis.

“Why is it our responsibility to fix the affordable housing problem, and what are you going to do to fix the affordable housing problem?” Norquist questioned.

If passed, the Santa Fe County Commissioners’ proposed regulations would go into effect in March.

Meanwhile, in Albuquerque, city leaders are also taking a closer look at short-term rentals. Part of the new “Housing Forward ABQ Plan” aims to set guidelines for renters.

Ava Montoya, a City of Albuquerque spokesperson, says they’re working with the city council on a bill and stated:

“The aim is not to affect mom-and-pop owners or to impact accommodations for tourists. It’s to prevent some of the large-scale, short-term rental property purchases seen in other cities that do have negative impacts on the housing market.”