Opinion

Hildebrand: A response to PR attacks on short-term rentals

Posted 3/4/21

Watch out for the big lies being told about small businesses.

I’m talking about opponents of vacation rentals. They’re happy to blame these properties for everything from crime to COVID-19 to the rising price of housing.

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Opinion

Hildebrand: A response to PR attacks on short-term rentals

Posted

Watch out for the big lies being told about small businesses.

I’m talking about opponents of vacation rentals. They’re happy to blame these properties for everything from crime to COVID-19 to the rising price of housing.

Don’t believe it.

I’m a freelance photographer by trade, but began vacation-rental hosting in 2016 to help make ends meet.

Over time I was able to purchase and renovate a pair of fixer-upper homes in Scottsdale. I’m incredibly proud of what I’ve accomplished through hard work, dedication and no small amount of financial risk on my part. The past 12 months have been difficult due to the pandemic, but I feel blessed that income from my vacation rentals has helped support me as my photography work disappeared.

My story is typical — most vacation-rental hosts are local and share the same Arizona community. Hosting is a side gig for nearly all of us.

Unfortunately, I don’t often recognize my own industry when it’s described by certain local politicians and the hotel and city lobbyists paid to shut us down.

The fact is, the average vacation-rental rate in Phoenix is $145/day, according to independent research firm AirDNA, and most properties are two bedrooms or fewer.

Even in Scottsdale, arguably the hottest vacation-rental market in Arizona, the average rate is $250/night and rental properties are smaller than three bedrooms, on average.

Nobody is getting rich off this. It’s a labor of love — emphasis on “labor.”

Owning a vacation rental is a lot of hard work! Many of us employ housecleaners, handymen and other service providers to help keep our properties in top shape for guests.

Another myth-buster: local governments are hardly powerless in fighting nuisance vacation rentals. State law allows cities and towns to enforce noise, traffic, nuisance, public health and other ordinances against vacation rentals – they just can’t treat rental properties differently based on the length of stay.

State law only permits vacation rentals for residential uses; they can’t be utilized as wedding venues, bars or other commercial enterprises. Plus, local governments are authorized to enforce additional restrictions, such as the ordinance against “party homes” that Scottsdale adopted.

Which brings us to the real question: Since cities already have all of this enforcement authority, why aren’t they using it?

Keep in mind that during 2019, the last full year before the pandemic slowed tourism, Airbnb alone collected and remitted more than $23 million in tax revenue to the State of Arizona, which distributed those dollars to local municipalities. You would think a community could use just a portion of the funds to hire code enforcement officers or have them work evening or weekend hours.

Instead, the Town of Paradise Valley is spending taxpayer dollars to the tune of $200/hour to hire a PR firm, and diverted scarce police resources filming a ludicrous COPS-style video to assist anti-vacation rental lobbying efforts at the State Capitol. Perhaps Mayor Bien-Willner, who described vacation rentals as an “unrestrained invasion” into his fair community, should look into whether these assets could be better utilized dealing with the problem instead of waging a PR campaign.

Look, the vacation-rental industry isn’t perfect. Bad hosts and disrespectful guests give us all a bad name.

But any state reforms should be smart and targeted, like SB 1379. It enables state and local authorities to hand down stiff penalties, including suspension of the tax license for repeat violations. Coupled with enforcement of existing regulations and more aggressive oversight by the platforms, this is a winning combination.

Arizonans for Responsible Tourism Recovery strongly supports SB 1379. We believe it strikes the appropriate balance — unlike competing legislation, HB 2481, that threatens our industry and investments made in good faith.

Representing over 1,000 Arizona small businesses, Arizonans for Responsible Tourism Recovery urges legislators and Gov. Ducey to support SB 1379. Let’s deal with the small number of vacation-rental bad actors without hurting Arizona families who’ve followed the rules.

Families like mine.

Editor’s Note: John Hildebrand owns two Arizona vacation rentals and is a member of Arizonans for Responsible Tourism Recovery. He lives in Scottsdale.

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