New Airbnb measures fail to curb short-term rentals abound in Scottsdale, Paradise Valley

COVID outbreak transforms issues from nuisance to public health threat

Posted 7/30/20

As Airbnb announces new policies and a dedication to host responsible guests, one Paradise Valley official says the actions miss the mark.

In July, the short-term rental platform made public a …

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New Airbnb measures fail to curb short-term rentals abound in Scottsdale, Paradise Valley

COVID outbreak transforms issues from nuisance to public health threat

Posted

As Airbnb announces new policies and a dedication to host responsible guests, one Paradise Valley official says the actions miss the mark.

In July, the short-term rental platform made public a new policy change limiting rentals by guests under the age of 25, and suspended or removed 50 listings across Arizona.

Paradise Valley Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner, who’s been heavily involved in seeking a resolution to allow local government the ability to regulate vacation rental homes, says these measures don’t provide the changes needed.

“Obviously, it’s not working, the systems we have,” Mr. Bien-Willner said.

“I don’t want to be telling people ‘we can’t do anything about it; it’s not our problem, go talk to the state.’ This is something we should be able to address --- every community that’s involved in this across the state. It’s really frustrating.”

Communities across Arizona, affluent or not, have been impacted by short-term rental homes. When the weekend dwellers of the single-family home are on vacation looking for a good time, the impact to neighbors can be poor.

Homeowners have begun to lament the rentals, while those who are hosts to renters say only a small percentage of homes are the bad actors creating problems. Many owners use the vacation rentals as a form of primary income.

Still, homes in quiet, secluded Paradise Valley are abused by renters seeking options that sleep large groups.

“It has been very disruptive,” Tim Dickman, Paradise Valley resident, said of life next to a rental for the past few years.

Mr. Dickman cites his neighborhood short-term rental used for wedding receptions; party pads; and respite from Old Town partying.

“Because of the size of the homes in our area, frequently the renters are unrelated. For example, these are not families renting the property. This creates lots of COVID concerns when large groups rent the property, do not social distance, and then go out into the community,” Mr. Dickman said.
To address party houses, Airbnb announced an initiative directly tied to this issue --- restricting renters under the age of 25.

Those under 25, without a track record of positive reviews from booking local, entire home listings, will be monitored by Airbnb’s system.

Elected state leaders were working on reform to put some guardrails on short-term rentals before breaking due to the virus outbreak. Mr. Bien-Willner is hopeful those efforts continue.

Airbnb effort

Ben Breit, an Airbnb spokesperson, says the idea to restrict some guests under the age of 25 was first tested in Canada, where it was successful.

The idea is U.S. guests under the age of 25 are restricted from booking entire home listings in their local area. For example, if a 20-year-old guest is staying in Scottsdale, that guest is restricted from booking a house, apartment or other entire listing in Scottsdale for a 1-night reservation the following weekend --- unless they have a history of positive reviews on Airbnb.

However, if that same 20-year-old renter is booking a stay in Tucson, the restriction would not apply.

Mr. Breit was unable to disclose what the radius of acceptable distance to be excluded from the restriction was.

This restriction is not a ban on young adults, Mr. Breit says, as these guests are still welcome to rent out single rooms.

“If I’m an 18-year-old and I don’t have any reviews on Airbnb, and I’m trying to look at a five-bedroom home in Scottsdale, for one night, that doesn’t seem like a particularly good idea,” Mr. Breit said. “That’s the type of booking that we’re not going to be allowing. It’s not just a policy on paper --- through our technology, we literally will be blocking those bookings --- we’re just not going to allow it, unless you have a history of positive reviews. Unless you have earned that trust.”

Mr. Breit says this isn’t a response to COVID-19, it’s an issue Airbnb recognizes and wants to stop.

“When this pandemic hopefully passes, and hopefully soon, that’s not going to stop our desire to stop unauthorized parties in Arizona or elsewhere,” he explained.

Of the suspended properties, Mr. Breit couldn’t say exactly how many were in Scottsdale, but two-thirds of the 50 violators were in Maricopa County. Also, he said, Scottsdale and Phoenix had the most violations.

“Suspensions range in duration depending on the issues and whether they’ve been warned or suspended before,” Mr. Breit said.

Part of the company’s motivations for announcing the suspensions was to highlight their residential hotline at airbnb.com/neighbors.

“It’s through issues raised there that we’re able to better enforce the policy and address concerns, so we hope to hear from any neighbors who want to bring an issue to our attention,” he said.

Seeking meaningful reform

The policy initiatives come just as reports of a 300-person party took place at a Paradise Valley home.

While the local police department says the report doesn’t include mention of a “pop-up bar,” a person familiar with the situation says the event was operating like a speakeasy.

Paradise Valley Police Department Commander Freeman Carney says the party took over three hours to break up and give citations to the attendees. Mr. Carney says the citations included littering, unruly gathering and excessive noise, and confirmed the property was a short-term rental.

“Party-goers parked at the Franciscan parking lot and walked to the home. There was no valet or parking permit pulled with the town and no notice given that a private event was going to occur,” Councilman Scott Moore said about the event.

Mr. Bien-Willner says of Airbnb’s latest updates, he believes the short-term rental industry can do more to help neighborhoods affected.

“There’s a lot more the platforms could be doing. The first and most important thing they can do is get behind the reforms that we’re talking about,” Mr. Bien-Willner said.

“Rather than spending tons of money and lobbyist power challenging them. Allow Arizona to be like every other state in the union and have its local leaders weigh in as far as what the communities want --- that’s how it works every where else.”

Mr. Bien-Willner says everything Airbnb is doing now, is after the fact.

“Let’s not forget these problems occur specifically because of the lack of authority of local government to impose zoning,” he said, pointing to perceived intentions.

“I’m not going to sit here and say that we’d rather them do nothing --- but they’re definitely not the heroes in this. Their platforms are the ones creating the problems to begin with, and their answer is to say ‘look at what we did, we removed the people after they caused a big problem for you.’”

The mayor says he would rather prohibit these renters before the problems were caused.

“No one wants to live in a home, or should be forced to live in a home, where every day they have a different group of people showing up, have no idea who they are and not have a neighbor,” Mr. Bien-Willner said.

In terms of reform, Mr. Bien-Willner wants to see control return to local municipalities --- whether through restrictions or another idea.

One idea he liked, but admits may not get very far with state leaders, is to let anyone rent an extra room out for short-term rental, but any homes or other dwellings would need approval from the local jurisdiction to be used on vacation rental platforms.

“I’m pushing for anything that is meaningful reform that returns control to the localities,” he said. “That can take a number of different forms, and I’ll get behind anything that’s meaningful.”

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