Rules for vacation rentals in New Mexico have pingponged since the governor started issuing public health orders in March.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s most recent directive on lodging during the COVID-19 pandemic, issued last week, says that “short-term vacation rentals shall limit guests to New Mexico residents only.”
That’s actually a loosening of restrictions.
From April 11 to May 14, short-term rental owners could only provide housing to out-of-state health care professionals working in New Mexico.
As the state slowly reopens business operations and travelers from neighboring states become increasingly eager to visit Santa Fe, rental owners decry rules they say are forcing them to remain closed while hotels and other lodgers reopen or continue serving a limited number of guests.
“There is a discriminatory policy going on,” said Richard Woodruff, co-owner of Adobe Casitas Vacation Rentals.
Patrick Tolen, general manager of Kokopelli Property Management, which oversees vacation rentals for 64 property owners, said the firm didn’t get any requests for temporary housing for health care workers.
“There was not any need for health care workers who came from out of state,” Tolen said.
Kokopelli didn’t get requests from any other prospective short-term renters, either.
Amid shutdowns in the state and across the nation, vacation-rental owners in Santa Fe have been flooded with cancellations. With the city’s major art markets and other cultural draws, such as the Santa Fe Opera, canceling events scheduled throughout the summer, the local short-term rental industry, which generates up to $50 million a year through some 1,400 properties, has taken a big hit.
Initially, the governor’s public health order lumped vacation rentals in with “other places of lodging” and limited operations to 50 percent of capacity. Hotels are now limited to 25 percent of capacity.
But they aren’t prohibited from serving out-of-state visitors.
“We just find we have been overlooked or aggressively singled out. Hotels can operate at some capacity, but we can’t,” Woodruff said. “The rules have become more onerous. We can’t even accept out-of-state health care workers anymore.”
Woodruff and Adobe Casitas co-owner Leslie Drobbin manage 18 short-term rentals, including one he owns and two that Drobbin owns.
Not a single health care worker booked at Adobe Casitas. Neither has a New Mexico resident.
In a normal year, Woodruff said, only about three of the 500 to 600 parties that book at Adobe Casitas are New Mexico residents.
Kokopelli also doesn’t see many requests for New Mexico renters.
“Right now, there is not much of a market,” Tolen said.
Matt Landau, founder of VRMB, a New Orleans-based vacation rental marketing firm, said in an email he hadn’t seen a similar rule restricting rentals to in-state guests.
“It also seems to border on discrimination,” Landau said.
Eric Fullerton, director of marketing at AirDNA, a Denver company that analyzes data on short-term rentals, noted a rule in Florida that took effect Tuesday, when the governor of that state allowed vacation rentals to reopen — but prohibited guests from New York.
“Florida … clearly is doing something similar,” Fullerton wrote.
Enforcing New Mexico’s stringent short-term rental rules could be a whole other matter.
While it’s unlikely state or local law enforcement agencies will police rentals to ensure guests aren’t from out of state, the city’s tourism chief said he believes neighbors will “self-enforce” the rules.
“If you see an out-of-state car, you call it in, I guess. That’s the only way to enforce it, I would think,” said Randy Randall, executive director of Tourism Santa Fe, the city convention and visitors bureau.
Kokopelli and Adobe Casitas have had no guests since mid- to late March. But they began to get calls and emails in early May from people itching to get back on the road in the summer.
“In the last four days, I got six bookings for mid-June,” Tolen said. “I just hope things get lifted up.”
Adobe Casitas has received a flurry of calls from Denver; Boulder, Colo.; Phoenix; Scottsdale, Ariz.; and Dallas, Woodruff said, but he has had to turn them all down due to the restrictions.
“In the first week of May, we got at least 30 or 40 calls from people who want to be here,” Woodruff said. “All were driving. Not a single one was considering flying.”