Phoenix Could Require Short-Term Rental Owners to Register With the City

By Steven Hsieh for Phoenix New Times

A new Phoenix City Council proposal would require property owners renting out homes on sites like Airbnb and VRBO to register with the city.

The proposed ordinance, scheduled for a public hearing on Wednesday, would make it easier for neighbors to complain directly to property owners over noise, parties, and other problems associated with short-term rentals.

Currently, Phoenix residents don’t have an obvious way to speak with a property owner if their Airbnb neighbors are shooting porn, throwing a coke-fueled bachelor party, or causing some other kind of ruckus. So, they usually call the cops.

The proposed ordinance, as of Tuesday, would require all short-term rental owners to post an emergency contact email and phone number outside their rental property. Airbnb operators would also need to register their names, addresses, and contact information with the city of Phoenix and send someone to respond within an hour if police are called to their property.

Short-term rental companies oppose the ordinance as it’s currently written.

“We urge the City Council to work with all stakeholders on thoughtful regulations and not rush through an overly burdensome law that affects the private property rights of Phoenix residents sharing their homes,” a spokesperson for Airbnb said in an email.

The spokesperson stressed that Airbnb has taken steps in recent months to address quality-of-life concerns associated with its service. The company banned “party houses” following a shooting at an Airbnb home in California, and implemented a new 24/7 hotline for complaints.

Expedia Group, which owns VRBO and a similar site called Homeaway, sent a letter to Mayor Kate Gallego and City Council members requesting 30 days to review the ordinance before officials take any further action.

“An obligation for platforms to assume a form of liability for the compliance of users that advertise on their sites is detailed, complex, and can be complicated for all parties to implement,” the Expedia letter stated. “There are many considerations that have yet to be made regarding exactly how such a system would work and how the city would enforce it.”Letter From Expedia to the City of Phoenix

In a follow-up statement sent to New Times after the publication of this story, Expedia head of public affairs Philip Minardi said: “Expedia Group is grateful to city officials and staff for their openness and collaboration while developing regulations for Phoenix’s long-standing vacation rental community. We are committed to continued dialogue as City Council finalizes a long-term solution in the days and weeks ahead.”

Phoenix Director of Planning and Development Alan Stephenson rejected the idea that the city’s proposal constitutes an “overly burdensome” infringement on the rights of short-term rental owners.

“We’re not trying to outlaw them,” Stephenson said. “All we’re trying to do is provide a responsible party to be the contact party for neighbors to work out issues, so there can be a happy medium and not something that gets tied up in the weeds and becomes a drain on the police department.”

Arizona is a relatively friendly state for short-term rental operators. In 2017, the State Legislature passed a law banning cities from restricting or limiting the growth of short-term rentals.

Facing pressure from neighborhood groups, the Legislature amended the law last year to crack down on short-term rentals that are used for purposes other than vacation stays, like banquets and parties. The legislation signed by Governor Doug Ducey allowed cities to require publicly posted emergency contacts for short-term rentals, but did not include other provisions requested by neighborhood organizations, including limits on the number of guests or bans on investor-owned rentals.

Phoenix planning officials began drafting the ordinance in response to the new short-term rental law. Scottsdale and Paradise Valley have both already passed their own ordinances to prevent party houses.

The proposal was pushed by City Council members Betty Guardado and Debra Stark, who represent the west side and north central Phoenix, respectively. Council member Sal DiCiccio, whose district includes Ahwatukee, Arcadia, and also parts of north central Phoenix, supports the intent of the ordinance, but “but does not feel this proposal has been well thought-out,” spokesperson Sam Stone said.

He criticized the requirement that owners post contact information outside their property and suggested that the proposed ordinance would violate the state law restricting short-term rental regulations, among other concerns.

“Our office has heard from a huge number of people who make ends meet by renting out a property, or their house when they’re out of town, or just a room in their house, who would be directly harmed by this proposal,” Stone said. “Putting the hammer to these people just to catch a handful of bad actors is stupid and unnecessary.”

The Valley has seen explosive growth in short-term rentals in recent years. According to AirDNA, an industry research group that analyzes data on Airbnb and similar sites, the Phoenix metro area had about 2,000 short-term rentals at the end of 2016. Compare that with the 5,000 vacation rentals operating in the area at the height of 2019.

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