Las Vegas Sun

August 30, 2016

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County mulls another bid to legalize short-term home rentals

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Julie Davies and her husband, Chris, thought they had their retirement mapped out.

They would live in their Mountain’s Edge home and also own other local properties that could occasionally house loved ones and provide extra income as short-term rentals.

But their plan hit a snag: Renting a home for less than a month isn’t allowed in unincorporated areas of Clark County. Now, Julie Davies is part of a group lobbying the county commissioners to change the ordinance and allow short-term rentals — with strict regulations and enforcement.

“If I’m going to run a business, I’m going to do it legally, lawfully and right,” she said.

It might be an uphill battle considering the question at the heart of the issue: What’s the difference between a short-term rental and a party house?

It depends on whom you ask.

The terms have ignited heated debate in county government for years, with commissioners, residents and homeowners hoping to profit off short-term rentals squabbling over semantics. Former County Commissioner Tom Collins proposed crafting an ordinance in 2013 that would legalize and regulate short-term rentals, but the idea fizzled after little enthusiasm from fellow commissioners.

The conversation has surfaced again. Last month, Davies and other short-term rental proponents appeared before the zoning commission, urging members to give the issue another look. The commissioners, despite some strong hesitation, approved the formation of a stakeholder work group that would re-examine the issue and submit a report by the beginning of April.

Based on how many short-term rental listings for Southern Nevada exist on websites such as Airbnb and HomeAway, it’s likely several hundred already operate illegally in the county’s unincorporated areas, said Nancy Amundsen, the county’s director of comprehensive planning, who heads to stakeholder group.

That’s why Jay Brown, an attorney representing the Vegas Vacation Rental Association, argues an ordinance update is necessary: If they’re already operating, why not create rules governing their existence and make them an economic benefit to the community?

Brown recommended the county consider ordinances that would penalize short-term rental owners and renters who violate noise restrictions; give homeowner associations discretion in allowing such rentals in their neighborhoods; and place limits on how many short-term rentals can exist in a neighborhood.

Short-term rental owners also should pay a license fee to the county and room taxes, Brown said.

“Regulation is key,” he said.

Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani isn’t convinced. Her district, which includes a large swath of the central and eastern valley, doesn’t support making short-term rentals legal for a variety of reasons, including the proliferation of so-called party houses and Metro Police’s limited resources to enforce regulations, she said.

The county’s public response officers, who enforce codes, don’t work nights or weekends.

“We don’t need to regulate it because it would be a free-for-all more than it is now,” she said.

On HomeAway, a five-bedroom house in Las Vegas is available for $906 per night. The site doesn’t indicate if the house is in city limits, where it’s legal. Other properties, as small as a condo or one-story house, are less than $100 a night.

Giunchigliani likened party houses to commercial businesses that infiltrate neighborhoods, robbing residents of their peaceful settings because of loud music, increased traffic and occasional illicit activity. County officials have investigated a number of alleged party houses over the years and even levied a $29,000 penalty in 2012 against the owners of a 5,500-square-foot home in the western valley.

Brown and Davies dismissed the notion that short-term rentals are simply the breeding ground for wild parties. Many potential renters, they said, are looking for an off-Strip place to stay that offers the convenience of a kitchen and more space — perfect for families, corporate groups or even poker players in town for short stints of time.

To keep away unsavory renters, Davies said she would vet potential short-term clients, make it clear her property isn’t meant for parties and ask for a damage deposit. (Davies, who has a background in the hospitality industry, owns a long-term rental that she and her husband would like to convert to a short-term rental, in addition to buying new properties.)

“I think we here in Clark County need to make this option available,” she said. “Otherwise, they will go someplace else.”

They don’t necessarily have to go far. Las Vegas allows short-term rentals, but it passed an ordinance in 2014 with stricter regulations. Among the rules: No more than 18 occupants during the day and 12 at night. No weddings or receptions. No using musical instruments or stereos outside.

Homeowners also must secure a $500 license from the city and designate an on-call contact who can respond within two hours if a problem arises.

Thirty-three homeowners currently have licenses to operate their properties as short-term rentals in Las Vegas, city officials said.

Las Vegas Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian, who championed the stricter rules, said the county would be wise to carefully study the issue before drafting any ordinances. She suspects hundreds of short-term rentals are operating without licenses in the city limits.

The licensing fees haven’t been enough to cover enforcement costs, but Tarkanian said some means of supervision are necessary to protect residents if a short-term rental becomes a party house.

“People pay taxes and buy homes — their biggest lifetime investment,” she said. “They deserve some respect.”

Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak didn’t automatically reject the idea of legalizing and regulating short-term rentals. First, the work group needs to find a way to differentiate between a weekend party house and a short-term rental, which he said could be a tall order.

“I see both sides,” Sisolak said.

As for Davies, she and her husband are gaining experience running a short-term rental home they bought last year in Kissimmee, Fla. It’s their vacation spot — not far from Disney World — to use with their children and grandchildren. And when they’re away, they rent it out to other vacationing families or snowbirds escaping the harsh northern winters.

They’re hoping to have the same opportunity in unincorporated Clark County, although the couple has been exploring options in the Las Vegas city limits.

“We love Las Vegas,” Davies said. “If I have to invest my money in Florida or Washington, we’ll end up retiring out there. I want to stay here.”

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