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October 9, 2015

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County to study easing rules to allow vacation home rentals

Majority of commissioners still wary, want to avoid proliferation of party houses

Short-term vacation rentals are currently outlawed in residential areas in unincorporated Clark County, but that could be changing.

The issue: Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins asked for an agenda item to begin crafting an ordinance that would legalize and regulate short-term home rentals in the county.

The vote: There was no vote. Commissioners advised staff to research similar ordinances in Las Vegas and Henderson and to report back in two months with suggestions for a county ordinance.

What it means: Short-term home rentals of less than one month could be made legal in Clark County, but don’t count on it.

Commissioners said they were open to discussion but expressed little enthusiasm for changing the current ordinance, which requires all residential leases be for at least 31 days.

The discussion was dominated by concerns about short-term rentals turning into “party houses” that draw groups of revelers who arrive for the weekend, play loud music late each night and then depart on Monday, leaving behind large amounts of trash.

In March 2012, commissioners levied a $29,000 fine against a Spanish Palms neighborhood home for violating the party house ordinance. Since then, the county has investigated 10 more suspected violators, although dozens of listings for vacation rentals can still be easily found online.

Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said allowing short-term rentals would have a destabilizing effect on neighborhoods.

“You may with good intentions be able to try to regulate it, but the devil is always in the details and who’s going to enforce it,” Giunchigliani said. “I was on the phone yesterday with a person who rented their home out short-term. It’s a frat house with constant parties, beer cans and everything else. The neighborhood has been completely frustrated for a year and a half now.”

Collins argued the county would have greater oversight and ability to crack down on party houses by introducing an ordinance similar to laws in Las Vegas and Henderson that require short-term rentals to be licensed.

Short-term rentals would create another option for tourists while fees from licensing and revenues from room taxes could be used to bolster the county’s budget, he said.

“It’s going on now. People are having parties. Whether it’s a short-term rental or a long-term rental, you still can’t have a DJ in the backyard around the swimming pool making a lot of noise,” Collins said. “A lot of illegal activity has been brought up this morning which could be regulated, creating revenue and legalizing some things that are going on while being able to protect our community.”

Several property owners and property managers attended Wednesday’s meeting and expressed support for allowing short-term rentals. They argued most vacation rentals are to families or corporate travelers who don’t disturb the neighborhoods.

John Palmer, who operates the vacation rental marketing company Las Vegas Retreats, said regulating short-term rentals would give landlords more ability to control tenants and proscribe what was and wasn’t allowed.

“There is a vast difference between the vacation rental business and the party home business,” Palmer said. “The typical customers are families with children. They want the security and the privacy that’s afforded by vacation rental homes. They don’t want to share the swimming pool with hundreds of other people. They don’t want to drag their kids through smoky casinos filled with gamblers.”

After Wednesday’s meeting, county staff will work with short-term rental advocates to see what type of regulations would be needed in the unincorporated county. When staff reports back in two months, commissioners could decide to introduce an ordinance based on their findings.

“I’m happy to have the discussion,” Commission Chair Steve Sisolak said. “But I’ve had several of these (party houses) in my district and every one of them has been a nightmare. It sounds good about Thanksgiving dinners and family reunions, but more often than not it ends up being bachelor parties and wild weekends in Las Vegas.”

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