By Wayne Schutsky
“Looking for the best Airbnb in Old Town to throw the biggest summer rager of all time!!”
That post appeared on the NextDoor social media website on August 1 and was deleted a short time later.
The premise of the post — visitors or locals using a short-term rental property in Scottsdale to throw a large party — concisely encompassed the main gripe many residents here have with platforms like Airbnb and VRBO as they have grown in popularity in recent years.
The platforms allow visitors to rent homes, condos and other properties from private owners instead of using local hotels.
Their popularity is especially booming in Scottsdale, where approximately 4,000 properties are being used as short-term rentals, according to city staff.
It’s easy to see why.
In April 2019, Realtor.com named Scottsdale No. 1 on its list of “Top 10 Cities Where Vacation Rentals Make the Most Cash.”
According to the list, the average daily rate for a short-term rental in Scottsdale was $301 — nearly $100 higher than Miami and $123 than Honolulu.
The trend has left a number of residents upset, saying it is bringing loud parties, public drunkenness, drug use and littering into their neighborhoods.
Scottsdale resident Linda Derringer says a short-term rental property near her mother’s house south of Papago Plaza has been a source of contestant aggravation.
She says weekend parties cause noisy activity late at night and early in the morning.
Derringer says a July 2018 incident stands out because she documented the noise, which included people “getting in and out and slamming car doors every 5 minutes, booming stereos, laughing and screaming.”
“I kept a notebook while I slept, and I woke up every 5 minutes from midnight to 2 a.m.,” Derringer says. “I called the Scottsdale police nonemergency line quite a few times.”
Derringer recalls another incident in May when a drunken guest at the same nearby property mistakenly tried to enter her mother’s home.
“I was getting ready to have morning coffee and heard what sounded like someone trying to open the door,” Derringer says. “I looked out the peephole and the screen door was wide open and he is trying to get in.”
Derringer yelled through the locked door that he was at the wrong house to no avail. She then called Scottsdale Police, who responded quickly.
“Some other neighbors saw him walking with bottle of vodka in neighborhood,” Derringer says.
More than a dozen residents who attended a recent city meeting on a proposed nuisance party ordinance told similar stories, including a man who said he witnessed renters using drugs on the roof of an adjacent home.
Others complained of alley ways littered with trash and overflowing trash bins filled with refuse from parties.
In response to issues with parties, the city of Scottsdale is considering a new zoning ordinance that would apply to all private property owners to discourage nuisance parties and illegal activity.
The ordinance is expected to be considered by the City Council in September.
Raun Keagy, Scottsdale’s planning and development area director, says the nuisance party issue predates the short-term rental craze but that the majority of complaints the city receives come from short-term rental properties.
The new ordinance would allow the city to impose fines of $250 to $1,500 if Scottsdale police respond to parties where nuisances or illegal activities occur, including minors drinking or possessing alcohol, drug use, public urination, indecent exposure, littering, blocking public thoroughfares, weapons violations or other felonies.
The proposed ordinance doesn’t go far enough for some residents, though.
“We need to just put a stop to these Airbnbs altogether,” says a resident who attended a public meeting.
However, the city’s hands are tied when it comes to regulating the short-term rentals themselves.
In 2017, the Arizona Legislature passed a law prohibiting cities or towns from banning short-term rentals or restricting those rentals simply based on the use category.
Prior to passage of that law, the city of Scottsdale actually did have a short-term rental ban in place, a city staffer told the crowd at the public meeting.
However, even that was not totally effective.
“There was a whole website devoted to Scottsdale short-term rentals (at the time),” Mayor Jim Lane says. “There were over 2,000 properties involved in that and they had no accountability to us.”
Lane also echoed Gov. Doug Ducey, a major supporter of the 2017 law, saying that allowing short-term rentals is a property rights issue.
“Any private property that you own yourself, you have a right to rent it to whoever you want or to lend it to them…on a short-term basis or otherwise,” Lane says.
Even with the 2017 law in place, the city has some powers at its disposal.
For instance, Scottsdale police will respond to noise complaints from residents emanating from parties at rentals and issue citations if violations occurred.
Derringer says city code enforcement was also responsive to her complaints about the property near her mother’s home due to issues like overgrown weeds in the alley.
Scottsdale also prohibits more than six adults from staying in a short-term rental at a time — a rule many residents think is violated regularly.
A search of the Airbnb platform shows there are more than 800 rental properties in Scottsdale advertising that they sleep at least seven adults.
Keagy says it is difficult for the city to prosecute the six-person rule because the burden of proof is high.
“That’s a hard one for us to prove, because we go out and knock on the door or they can tell us whatever they want to tell us,” Keagy says.
The state did hand back limited power to cities recently when the governor signed a bill sponsored by John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, who represents much of Scottsdale.
Cities will now be able to require property owners operating short-term rentals to keep emergency contact information on file with the city.
Keagy says in the past just reaching property owners to notify them of complaints could be difficult, especially if properties were owned by out-of-state residents or owned through opaque corporations or LLCs.
Keagy says the city is going to update its ordinance to include this power “so that there’s someone who can be gotten ahold of literally in real time.”
The city could use that information to ensure property owners pay fines if the new party ordinance is passed by the City Council.
In response to a question at the public meetings, Keagy says the city could file a lawsuit or a lien on a property if fines go unpaid and the total adds up to a large amount.
The new state law also requires property owners operating rentals to have a state transaction privilege tax license.
It is unlikely the state is going to hand back any more power to the cities in the near future.
After signing Kavanagh’s bill, Ducey wrote, “After solving this important enforcement challenge, I am hopeful that additional legislation regulating short-term rentals will not be needed.”
Ducey also defended the 2017 law, writing that “In Arizona, we respect the right to do what we want with our property without undue government interference.”
City leadership is split on whether or not more needs to be done.
Lane is sympathetic to the governor’s point of view.
However, City Councilwoman Solange Whitehead echoed comments from city staff, urging residents to contact their state representatives to advocate for changes to the state law if they are not happy with the city’s limited powers.
“We need an uproar,” Whitehead says. “And the governor needs to understand that this is not pro-business, it is anti-community.” ν