Scottsdale residents fight over Airbnbs

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Neighbors to some short-term rental homes in Scottsdale want to see more regulation.

David Hudnall

Every Thursday afternoon, at 3 p.m., Erik Stroud feels a creeping fear. At this point, like clockwork, the guests arrive at the neighboring vacation rental.

“Every Thursday. Three Uber pulls over. Ten kids get out,” he said. “It’s the same thing over and over again.”

The ranch-style home adjacent to Stroud’s House in Old Town Scottsdale is lavishly decorated. According to its Airbnb listing, it offers “sound healing” sessions and, for an additional cost, a private chef. On peak weekends it costs $ 600 a night. When the property sold two years ago, the new neighbors first told Stroud that an older couple were planning to move in. “And it wasn’t true,” he said. “They bought it and about two weeks later turned it into a vacation rental. And from there it’s hell.

At first Stroud thought he could handle it. But then on the weekends, 30-seat party buses started rolling, with disco lights and music blaring. There were fights in his driveway. Sometimes a pop-up business rents the house for a single day and fills it with racks of boutique clothing. Dozens of customers flock to the neighborhood for shopping. “I can’t sleep,” he said. “It got so out of hand.”

Scottsdale’s sparkling, ultra-wealthy neighborhoods – some of the wealthiest in the Phoenix metro area – are teeming with short-term rentals. Many longtime residents have spent years petitioning against rentals, which have thrived on platforms like Airbnb and Vrbo. But a travel frenzy spurred by the easing of pandemic restrictions has, they say, brought things to a breaking point.

Demand has increased in Scottsdale in recent months. According to data from AllTheRooms, the average price of vacation rentals in the city has nearly doubled since January. The neighborhood is the perfect storm for a short-term rental repossession: many houses in the neighborhoods look like mini-resorts and are close to clubs and bars. But, more importantly, Arizona’s vacation rental regulations are decidedly lax, completely blocking local control of the industry. The city estimates that more than 5,000 properties out of Scottsdale’s 90,000 households – nearly 6% – are now listed as vacation rentals for part of the year. Increasingly, the state is an outlier in its management of properties as neighbors like Nevada take a more stringent approach. She made the city, as Stroud calls it, a “bachelorette capital”. The inhabitants are furious.

“It’s starting to get really aggressive – on both sides, I would say. There are owners who… I’m nervous. I’m afraid they’ll lose it, ”said Kate Bauer, who helped found a local group called Neighbors Not Nightmares, which struggles with rentals in Scottsdale and around the Phoenix subway. Some Scottsdale landlords have sued short-term rental landlords. The city has formed a task force on the issue, in an attempt to ease tensions.

“This is the biggest investment they are going to make,” said Bauer. “This is their home. And they feel that it escapes them.

In recent weeks, Airbnb has embarked on a campaign against the scourge of “party houses” plaguing its listings, claiming to have blocked tens of thousands of users for violating its party ban, including 5,000 booking attempts. just in Phoenix.

But in Scottsdale, residents tell a different story. A homeowner last summer looked into his neighbor’s yard to see a new mural decorating the wall: “Get Wild Scottsdale,” he read, painted in bright balloon letters. “As soon as they painted this on the wall, I felt this hollow in my stomach,” she said. (The owner asked not to be named for fear of being harassed by the owners.)

Weeks later, the property was listed on Airbnb, advertised as the “house of the jungle”. An imposing bouncy castle appeared in the courtyard one afternoon, according to photographs provided by the owner. Instagram posts further document the interior of the house, including a quote from “Tiger King” painted on a wall that proclaims, “I’m outspoken, handsome, love to party.” This was one of the many Airbnbs in Scottsdale that are marketed, explicitly, for party animals.

Scottsdale Police, in turn, have been inundated with calls about rentals. A task force convened by the city suggested that, to deal with the volume, the city needed a new police response team dedicated solely to the problem. It would be made up of six officers, a sergeant and a code inspector. When a board member asked if rentals were “such a serious problem that we need eight full-time police officers on call,” Deputy Chief Richard Slavin noted that the department had received over 1,500 calls for service. concerning such rental properties.

Short-term rental owners, for their part, scorn some of the residents’ dramas. Randy Durow, who owns nine vacation rental properties in the area, admitted that some of the property management companies that have come down to Scottsdale are “pretty dodgy.” “So I understand,” he said. “I understand how angry the neighbors are about this.”

“But you see these people – we call them NIMBY – they just scream. They exaggerate a lot. It’s just ridiculous some of the things they say. It’s out of control, ”he said.

A series of public comments submitted to the City of Scottsdale gives some idea of ​​the complaints: “Garbage piles up for weeks before calls to the city finally clean it up,” a resident said, noting she had two short term rentals next door. . “Please help us we are drowning,” wrote another resident, who said a vacation rental party animal attempted to break into his house. “Drugs, fires, parties, thieves !!!” another wrote.

The city has drafted recommendations to address the issue locally – but a state law, which Governor Doug Ducey signed in 2016, specifically prevents municipalities from regulating short-term rentals, with a few exceptions. Cities like Scottsdale need to develop solutions through the application of already existing codes.

Recommendations include a “nuisance search team” within the police department and increased fines on non-compliant properties. At the same time, the city is still trying to compile a comprehensive list of local short-term rentals. Although properties are required to provide contact information to the city, most have not: “We basically have to find them and encourage them to share this information with us,” said City Manager Brent Stockwell.

It is no small task. Stockwell estimates that there are at least 4,000 short-term rentals in Scottsdale, or four out of five of the city’s total.

Faith in the city’s ability to handle the problem without critical tools like zoning laws is mixed. Bauer says his group is focusing more on repealing state law – SB 1350, now ARS 9-500.39 – than on local efforts.

“Our mantra has just been local control, local control, local control,” she said. But that is unlikely to happen during Ducey’s tenure, she noted: “We are at the mercy of whoever our next governor will be.”

The growing pressure to change state law is making homeowners like Durow nervous. “If they get local control, do you know what they’re going to do? They will shut them down. They are going to say “30 days,” he said. And, if that happens, he said “the tourism industry is going to be crushed.”

For now, however, Scottsdale remains a shining example of an unregulated short-term rental industry. Some residents are thinking of leaving. Audra Jones, who lives in south Scottsdale, faces a vacation rental next door – like “everyone else does” these days, she said. “It’s disturbing, it’s boring,” she said. “I just can’t cope with it.” She says she plans to move to an acre of land outside of town, away from any neighbors.

For those who want to stay in Scottsdale, moving is hardly an option.

“I would move,” said Stroud, “but where are you going?” There is no disclosure. Buying a home in North Scottsdale? Well, they have it as bad as we do.

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