Proposed Tempe ordinance creates friction between Airbnb hosts, residents

Business News | 18 Sep |

A proposed ordinance in Tempe could give the city more regulation of short-term rental properties in an effort to align city code with state law.

The ordinance is causing debate between Airbnb hosts who say their renters have never caused problems and city residents, including Vice Mayor Lauren Kuby, who says short-term rentals pose an “existential threat to our neighborhoods.”

A working group, headed by Kuby and Councilman Joel Navarro, proposed the ordinance after forming in response to the enactment of Senate Bill 1350 in 2016, restricting a city’s ability to regulate short-term rental properties.

The proposed ordinance is Tempe’s attempt to align with the recently revised state laws, specifically House Bill 2672, that govern how cities may regulate short-term rentals. The law allows cities to regulate uses of rental properties, collect contact information from the property owners, and provides a reporting process for violations.

“The unintended consequences (of SB 1350) were that it could mean that neighborhoods that traditionally keep a separation between business and neighborhoods kind of had this infiltration of the business into the neighborhoods, which means increased people parking on the street, increased traffic, increased noise, and just a sense that their neighborhood character is dissolving,” Kuby said at a public meeting about the ordinance Monday.

These unintended consequences may include the “party houses,” as some attendees of the meeting labeled them, that result when houses are listed on short-term rental sites, an experience that Tempe resident Yvonne Pearson knows all too well.

A foreign buyer from China purchased a home in Pearson’s neighborhood, where she claims the property is listed as having an occupancy of 16 on short-term rental sites like Airbnb and VRBO. The result: alleged wild parties and citations for underage drinking and illegal parking.

Short-term rental hosts also in attendance said this was not the experience they had with putting their properties on these sites, saying a few bad eggs were not representative of all hosts and guests.

Tempe resident Lesa Emery has rented out her 98-year-old mother’s South Tempe home since January to help pay for her mother’s group home costs. Emery said she has never had the problems with rowdy rental guests like many of the attendees discussed, saying her guests are typically snowbirds or older adults coming into town for a wedding or for baseball in the spring.

“It is how you advertise…it’s how you describe your property,” Emery said. “I have no swimming pool, there’s no community pool, so that cuts down on a certain group to market to.”

The proposed ordinance would require contact information for the owner and an emergency contact, both of which would be displayed in the rental property along with a list of nonresidential uses. The ordinance would also require the owner of the short-term rental to obtain a transaction privilege tax license before they could rent their property.

Emery, who says she is “impressed with Airbnb’s business model,” is uneasy about providing her contact information under an ordinance she does not believe fits her.

“I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that because it is a private property,” Emery said. “But the nonresidential clause…I think that’s acceptable. I have no problem with that.”

While short-term rentals have brought an onslaught of noise violations and alleged citations, the big problem, according to Kuby, is “a shortage of ordinary housing.”

“We have a housing shortage and we have so many places rented out and they become sort of extra hotel rooms for the city,” Kuby said.

Kuby mentioned a similar dilemma in Sedona, where people that work in the community cannot afford to live in the city because “it’s just being eaten up by the vacation market.”

Rep. Isela Blanc, D-Tempe, agrees that short-term rentals are “exasperating the issues of bigger access to affordable housing in Tempe.”

“These are investments companies and they’re pricing out everyday people out of being even able to purchase a home,” Blanc said.

Kuby and Blanc are firm in their beliefs that the best-case scenario for Tempe and other Arizona cities is a repeal of SB 1350 to bring back local control.

“The impacts of short-term rentals look different in Tempe,” Blanc said. “It looks different in places like Sedona and Page and Jerome, some places like Globe aren’t seeing any problems with it. So really it’s about repealing the bill and giving local control back to those communities.”

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