Airbnb. VRBO. These are household names when you’re talking about short-term rentals. But a name you might be less familiar with, who has even more to do with short-term rentals in Denver, is Alex Cobell.
Alex is THE (literally, the only one) Licensing Technician for short-term rental licenses in Denver. He is the first person to ever have this job, which he started last December after attending Black Belt training last August. When Alex started, he realized that there were a lot of short-term rental licenses that shouldn’t have been issued. The department was getting a lot of complaints from neighbors near several short-term rentals that made it clear that these homes were solely being used as a short-term rental property when the law in Denver is that you must live on the property yourself in order to rent it out short-term (less than 30 days). Once one of these bad licenses is issued, the burden of proof is on the city in order to take it away. That means costly investigations that ultimately end in even more expensive show cause hearings, which involve staff from Excise and Licenses and the City Attorney’s office. Alex wanted to stop giving out bad licenses in the first place.
First, as any good Black Belt will do, Alex identified the pain points so he could focus his efforts on the changes that needed to be made first. One of Alex’s first innovations in his new role was to create a process for checking the residence of applicants and then regularly employ a newly created an affidavit that called out what the term ‘primary residence’ means and what will happen if you lie about living there (which basically means, are you sure you want to commit a FELONY?!). He added this affidavit early in the permitting process, so that people could withdraw before any investigation takes place, once they understood the consequences. He also created a checklist for the Excise and License front counter employees, so they knew which application needed to be kicked back for Alex to review the applicant’s residence and potentially send out the affidavit.
All this innovation has led to some incredible result: 80% of the short-term licenses are now in compliance, up from 50% when Alex started. That means we are now giving out way more good licenses and way fewer bad licenses! And we’re saving money in the process: the average cost of a show cause hearing is $3,135.64, but the cost of a withdrawal is $104.02. Fines for violations are also up from $300 to over $100,000 now that the process is more proactive and consistent in preventing people who owe fines from obtaining a license, which is keeping complaints down and neighbors happy. And Alex isn’t done yet. He’s started to create Standard Work for his position so that someone else in his department can fill in when he is gone and won’t have to recreate the wheel if he leaves the organization. Which we all hope he won’t do, unless it’s for a promotion within the City and County of Denver, because this is one bright spot that has shed a lot of light in new uncharted territory. Shine on, Alex!