Denver residents facing felony over short-term rental license see charge dismissed

Potential customers search an Airbnb screen for lodging places. (BizDen file photo)

In June and July 2019, Denver District Attorney Beth McCann filed a felony charge against four individuals after each applied for a short-term rental license from the city.

Denver only issues licenses — which allow for listing on sites like Airbnb — for homes that are “primary residences.” In the case of the four individuals, the city suspected they didn’t actually live at the home. When the individuals signed an affidavit stating it was their primary residence, McCann charged each with one count of attempting to influence a public servant or essentially making a false statement.

McCann’s office issued news releases announcing the charges.

But one year later, the charge against all four individuals — married real estate agents Stacy and Alexander Neir, immigration attorney Aaron Elinoff and custom homebuilder Spencer Chase — has been dismissed.

Spencer Chase

Aaron Elinoff

Only the dismissal of Elinoff’s charge in December has previously been reported. At the time, a spokeswoman for the DA’s office said that “after further investigation, we did not believe we could prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The charge against Stacy Neir was dismissed in early June, according to court records. The charge against Alexander Neir and the charge against Chase were dismissed in mid-July.

Asked about the three recent dismissals, McGann’s spokeswoman blamed the pandemic.

“We were confident that we would be able to prove the short-term rental violations in court,” Carolyn Tyler said. “However, the coronavirus has impacted court schedules and the courts requested that we limit the number of jury trials. While that caused us to make some difficult decisions regarding which criminal cases to pursue, seeking justice in violent cases and those cases with specific Victim Rights Act implications must receive priority.”

Stacey Neir

Alex Neir

The Neirs were represented by attorney Dan Recht, of Recht Kornfeld. Chase was represented by Richard Tegtmeier, of Sherman & Howard. Contacted last week, the attorneys declined to comment.

Denver is the only city in America where felony charges have been filed against individuals in connection with listing or attempting to list a property on sites like Airbnb, a defense attorney previously told BusinessDen.

Two administrative hearings focused on marital problems

Despite the criminal dismissals, all four individuals no longer have an active short-term rental license for the home that prompted their charge.

Around the time they were charged criminally, the four either lost their existing short-term rental license or were denied their request for one. Each was able to appeal that decision in a process separate from the criminal case proceedings.

Chase withdrew his appeal in August 2019 before an administrative hearing could be held. Alexander Neir did the same in July of this year, around the time his criminal case was dismissed.

But administrative hearings were held for the other two, providing a window into their defense.

Elinoff appealed the decision denying him a license for a home in the 600 block of Raleigh Street. At an administrative hearing, he said he was experiencing some trouble in his marriage, and thus was living away from his wife at the home in question at the time of his application. He indicated he also traveled regularly and sometimes slept elsewhere, hence the desire to rent the home for short periods. He said he changed the address on his driver’s license and voter registration to the Raleigh Street home in April, prior to being charged.

In the report issued Nov. 5, the hearing officer concluded that Elinoff “answered truthfully” when he said the Raleigh Street home was his primary residence. But, in a bit of a twist, however, she recommended the decision to deny him a short-term rental license be upheld because he had been living with his wife since his arrest, having apparently reconciled.

Stacy Neir also appealed the decision denying her a license for a home in the 4500 block of Tennyson Street. At her hearing, she testified that she and Alexander separated in early 2019. Their child stayed living in their couple’s Stapleton home, and the two parents — along with a set of grandparents — alternated spending nights there, she said. When not there, she and Alexander generally stayed at the properties for which they had short-term rental licenses.

In a report issued Feb. 13, the hearing officer determined that the Tennyson Street property shouldn’t be considered Neir’s primary residence.

“While she did submit the documentation required by the ordinance to establish a primary residence, her testimony is incorrect that it is up to the applicant for a short-term rental license to subjectively decide which of two properties they choose as their primary residence,” the hearing officer wrote. “This type of subjective decision would effectively nullify the primary residence requirement of the ordinance.”

The report indicates that the couple had reconciled by the time the hearing was held in late January 2020.

The primary residence requirement

The Denver city ordinance defines primary residence as “a residence which is the usual place of return for housing as documented by at least two of the following: motor vehicle registration, driver’s license, Colorado state identification card, voter registration, tax documents, or a utility bill.”

A person can only have one primary residence, the ordinance notes.

The primary residence requirement has been in place in Denver since 2017. It wasn’t until March 2019, however, that the city began asking those suspected of violating the requirement to sign a notarized affidavit. Prior to that, if an administrative hearing determined the requirement was violated, the city just revoked the license.

Eric Escudero, spokesman for the city department that oversees the licenses, said the primary residence requirement has been “highly successful in preventing short-term rentals from having a negative impact on available housing and cost of living in Denver.”

“Denver will continue to investigate complaints and take administrative action necessary in instances where short-term renters are violating rules,” he said.

There are 2,204 active short-term rental licenses in Denver, Escudero said. That’s down 406 from the start of August 2019. The coronavirus pandemic appears responsible for part of that drop.

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