Scottsdale residents’ war for Airbnbs
Every Thursday afternoon at 3 p.m., Erik Stroud feels a creeping sense of dread. At that point, like clockwork, guests arrive at the nearby vacation rental.
“Every Thursday. Three Ubers stop. Ten kids come out,” he said. “It’s the same thing over and over and over again.”
The ranch-style home adjacent to Stroud’s home 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 was 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 they turned it into a vacation rental. And from there, it’s hell.
At first, Stroud thought he could do it. But then, on the weekends, 30-seat party buses started rolling, complete with disco lights and banging music. 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 to shop. “I can’t sleep,” he said. “It got so out of control.”
Scottsdale’s swanky, ultra-affluent neighborhoods — among the wealthiest in the Phoenix metro area — are teeming with short-term rentals. Many long-term residents have spent years petitioning against rentals, which have flourished 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 All bedrooms, the average price of vacation rentals in the city has nearly doubled since January. The area 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, quite block local control Of the industry. The city estimates that more than 5,000 properties 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 property management, as neighbors like Nevada take a more rigorous approach. This transformed the city into, as Stroud calls it, a “singles capital”. The residents are furious.
“It’s starting to get really aggressive – on both sides, I’ll 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 fights rentals in Scottsdale and the Phoenix metro area. Some Scottsdale landlords have sued owners of short-term rentals. The city has formed a task force on the issue, to try to ease tensions.
“That’s the biggest investment they’re going to make,” Bauer explained. “It’s their house. And they feel like it’s getting away from them.
In recent weeks, Airbnb has embarked on a campaign against the scourge of “party homes” plaguing its listings, claiming to have blocked dozens of thousands users for violating its party ban, including 5,000 booking attempts in Phoenix alone.
But in Scottsdale, locals tell a different story. Last summer, a homeowner looked into her neighbor’s garden to see a new mural adorning the wall: “Get Wild Scottsdale,” it read, painted in bright letters. “As soon as they painted that on the wall, I felt that hole in my stomach,” she said. (The owner asked not to be named, for fear of being harassed by the owners.)
A few weeks later, the property was listed on Airbnb, advertised as the “jungle house”. A towering bouncy castle appeared in the yard one afternoon, according to photographs provided by the owner. Instagram posts further document the home’s interior, including a “Tiger King” quote painted on a wall that proclaims, “I’m outspoken, handsome, like to party.” It was one of several Airbnbs in Scottsdale marketed, explicitly, for partygoers.
Scottsdale police, in turn, have been inundated with calls about the rentals. A task force convened by the city suggested that, to deal with the volume, the city needed a new police response team solely dedicated to the issue. It would consist of six officers, a sergeant and a code inspector. When a council member asked if rentals were “such a big issue that we need eight full-time police officers on call,” Deputy Chief Richard Slavin noted the department had received more than 1,500 calls for service. regarding these rental properties.
Owners of short-term rentals, for their part, are dismissive of some of the resident drama. 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 the neighbors get upset about this.”
“But you get 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 give some insight into the complaints: ‘Trash piles up for weeks before the city calls are finally cleared up,’ said one resident, noting that she had two short term rentals next door. . “Please help we are drowning,” wrote another resident, who said a reveler tried to break into his home. “Drugs, Fires, Parties, Thieves!!!” another wrote.
The city has drafted recommendations to fix the problem locally — but a state law, which Gov. Doug Ducey signed in 2016, specifically prevents municipalities from regulating short-term rentals, with some exceptions. Cities like Scottsdale must piece together solutions through the application of already existing codes.
Recommendations include a “harmful party search team” within the police department and increased fines for 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 need to find them and encourage them to share that information with us,” City Manager Brent Stockwell said.
This is no small task. Stockwell estimates Scottsdale is short of at least 4,000 short-term rentals, or four out of five of the city’s total.
Confidence in the city’s ability to handle the problem without critical tools like zoning laws is mixed. Bauer says his group is more focused on repealing state law – SB 1350, now ARS 9-500.39 — than local efforts.
“Our mantra has just been local control, local control, local control,” she said. But that’s unlikely to happen during Ducey’s term, she noted: “We are at the mercy of whoever will be our next governor.”
Growing pressure to change state law is making rental landlords like Durow nervous. “If they get local control, you know what they’re going to do? They will close them. They’re 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, looks after a vacation rental next door — like “everyone does” these days, she said. “It’s disturbing, it’s boring,” she said. “I just can’t deal with it.” She says she was considering moving to an acre of land out of town, away from any neighbors.
For those who want to stay in Scottsdale, moving is hardly an option.
“I would move,” Stroud said, “but where are you going? There is no disclosure. Buying a house in North Scottsdale? Well, they have it as badly as we do.