Las Vegas votes to curb short-term rentals with new homeowner restrictions

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Mikayla Whitmore

Residents listen to comments on proposed amendments to Las Vegas ordinances regarding short-term rental properties, during a meeting at Las Vegas City Hall in downtown Las Vegas, Monday, June 19, 2017.

Wed, Dec 5, 2018 (9:30 p.m.)

One team was dressed in neon yellow T-shirts with messages like “Don’t turn our homes into hotels” written in capital letters on the front and back. Their opposition wore red, blue and orange shirts with a picture of the Welcome to Las Vegas sign.

The arena for Wednesday’s battle was a packed Las Vegas City Hall chambers, and one team squeaked out a closer-than-expected victory after a nearly six-hour, action-packed contest.

The City Council voted 4-to-3 Wednesday to limit owners of homes in Las Vegas to use only properties they’re personally occupying for rentals of less than 31 days. The new short-term rental regulations could force all but about 2 percent of the 162 legally operating properties in the city's jurisdiction to shutter when their special-use permits expire. The few renters living in their own home would be able to continue operate on popular short-term rental sites like Airbnb, HomeAway and VRBO if they renew local permits every six months.

“For the people who live in the city, it protects our neighborhoods,” said Mayor Carolyn Goodman, who joined Mayor Pro Tem Lois Tarkanian and Councilmen Bob Coffin and Steve Seroka in voting for the ordinance. “This is a work in progress, but we can’t keep kicking this down the road.”

The measure, proposed by Tarkanian and first introduced in October, aims to eliminate out-of-state residents and those in unincorporated Clark County and Henderson who purchase real estate in the city of Las Vegas for short-term rentals. Opponents of short-term rentals argue the properties bring parties, prostitution and drugs into residential communities, which lower the property values and endanger neighborhoods.

Tarkanian — who said Wednesday she’s still seeking a balance between allowing property owners to make money and preserving the integrity of neighborhoods, especially in downtown Las Vegas — lamented that an illegal Airbnb party home across the street from her residence routinely packs in 15 to 20 visitors, causing noise and leaving behind garbage.

Las Vegas is the only jurisdiction in the Las Vegas Valley to permit short-term rentals. While North Las Vegas, Henderson and unincorporated Clark County do not allow the rentals, listings on Airbnb showed a combined 5,800 properties in those jurisdictions as of Wednesday afternoon. Of 910 Airbnb listings in the city of Las Vegas, just 162 of those listings had the proper licensing to operate, Tarkanian said.

Wearing a yellow T-shirt with “Ban short-term rentals in our neighborhoods!” written in bold across the front, Chris Jones was among about 100 people to speak during a public comment session before the council voted. Jones argued that short-term rentals aren’t regulated to meet federal requirements for the Americans with Disabilities Act. They aren’t held to same cleaning and security standards as hotels, either, Jones said. The combination results in properties that don’t accommodate all potential visitors and that are dirtier and more dangerous.

“We think this is a good compromise in helping better understand what’s going on with these properties,” Jones said of the ordinance.

Clark County resident Olive Knaus purchased a downtown Las Vegas house in late 2017 in a rundown neighborhood near Spencer Street and East Sahara Avenue to use as an Airbnb property. Though she doesn’t live in the three-bedroom house, she persuaded city officials earlier this year to issue her a special-use permit for use as a short-term rental. She invested $14,000 to clean up and remodel the previously blighted yard and shabby interior, paying an additional $1,000 for the city license.

Speaking during public comment, Knaus argued the improvements she made helped improve the neighborhood, not hurt it. As a single woman, Knaus said sharing her personal residence with Airbnb guests would be uncomfortable for all parties.

“I’d have to lock up my belongings and put my pets in the other room,” she said. “It’s not pleasant for anyone involved.”

Other short-term rental homeowners — dressed in the shirts with the Welcome to Las Vegas sign and speaking at Wednesday’s council meeting — traveled from as far as Montana and Los Angeles to voice their concerns with removing their Las Vegas investment properties from the Airbnb market.

The public comment period lasted about five hours, and the council praised those on hand for engaging in civil and respectful dialogue.

Seroka, the swing vote, said just minutes prior to voting in favor of the ordinance that he didn’t believe “we have the right bill in place now.” Despite that, he voted for the initiative, adding Airbnb’s unwillingness to cooperate with city authorities or require users to provide proof of city permission to list their properties has allowed the company to violate local laws with impunity.

"The platform is helping bad actors break our laws,” Seroka said.

Among the three dissenters of the ordinance, Councilwoman Michele Fiore argued the initiative didn’t “put teeth” into the problem. Fiore and Councilman Stavros Anthony argued for a citywide ban of short-term rentals, similar to other valley jurisdictions. They voted against the ordinance because they didn’t think it went far enough.

The narrow vote resulted in wild applause from one-half of the chambers and audible gasps from the short-term rental owners.

For property owners like Knaus living outside the city, the new ordinance will force them to take a wait-and-see approach. She said she doesn’t expect to be grandfathered into the new industry and didn’t think moving back home was worth it when her special-use permit expires.

Airbnb spokeswoman Laura Rillos argued the city would be the ultimate loser in restricting the Las Vegas economy from getting its slice in the $30 billion annual short-term rental industry. Officials estimated that 500,000 of the valley’s 42 million annual tourists choose short-term rentals instead of hotels for their relative low cost and accessibility away from crowded casino resorts.

"While cities around the world are embracing the economic benefits of short-term rentals, the City Council has doubled-down on onerous regulations, and added further restrictions,” Rillos said. “This vote is a disappointing blow to Las Vegas hosts who rely on short-term rentals to support their families and will hurt the local economy."

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