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June 25, 2018

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Want to rent your room or house? This course could help

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Mikayla Whitmore

File image: Southern Nevada’s Ellen Ross charges $80 a night to rent out part of her home through Airbnb.

Updated Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017 | 2:34 p.m.

Listing your home on Airbnb might seem like a simple way to bring in additional income, but there is a lot more to operating a short-term rental than meets the eye.

From compliance with local regulations to best practices for managing unruly guests, the learning curve and hurdles facing homeowners who want to rent out their extra bedrooms or homes for profit can be quite steep. That is especially true in a place like Southern Nevada that is still struggling to figure out how these atypical rooming options fit into the landscape of a dominant tourism industry and residential neighborhoods.

In hopes of filling this educational void and getting operators on the same page with regulators, the College of Southern Nevada is launching a certification course that covers the ins and outs of the burgeoning short-term rental market. The two-day course will be offered for the first time in February and then again in April, June and August.

Julie Davies, a longtime operator of short-term rentals, pitched the certification course to the college’s community and personal enrichment program after seeing others invest significant amounts of money into their own short-term rental units only to be shocked when they didn’t turn out to be goldmines of passive income.

“People were told anybody can do it and it’s so easy,” she says. “They didn’t realize it was a business. It is work, especially if you do it right. You open yourself up to liabilities if you don’t have the proper safety items – smoke detectors, fire extinguishers. … One bad guest can cost you thousands of dollars.”

Davies wants others to understand what they are getting into before they make significant financial investments. She also wants to help legitimize the industry, which has butted heads with local elected officials and government bodies.

Las Vegas City Council in June introduced harsher regulations on its short-term rentals. They include requiring operators to obtain a special-use permit in addition to the business license already required. The Vegas Vacation Rental Association, of which Davies is a member, strongly opposed the changes and characterized them as an “effectual ban.”

Meanwhile, short-term rentals have been banned in unincorporated parts of the county since 1998.

Over the past decade, websites like Airbnb and HomeAway have popularized the practice of renting out privately owned residences or extra bedrooms. Approximately 4,000 short-term rentals are believed to be in operation in Las Vegas and unincorporated parts of Clark County. The majority are illegal in the eyes of their respective municipal governments. Many also violate their homeowners and neighborhood associations.

But enforcement is an issue.

As of Dec. 14, Las Vegas had 115 ongoing investigations related to short-term rentals. The city currently operates a 24-hour hotline that people can call to report noise, occupancy or other issues related to short-term rentals.

Davies believes a lot of the problems between local government and short-term rental operators are caused by misunderstandings that a certification course could correct. She says she has spoken to city council members about the new certification course and received only positive feedback and endorsement.

“The one thing everyone shakes their head in agreement is in training (of operators),” she adds. “Some want to make it mandatory for a license.”

Lillian Babcock, interim coordinator of the community and personal enrichment program at CSN, says that buy-in from local government, though still unofficial, is an important component of the certification course. She hopes city officials will recognize the certification as meaningful and proof that operators are taking their responsibilities seriously.

Babcock adds that seeing a certification listed on a posting would also give vacationers more confidence when booking a short-term rental. “As someone who just uses it, there is a lot you don’t think about,” she says.

The certification course will cover everything from best accounting practices, to successful marketing tactics, to instructions on staying in compliance with discrimination laws and safety regulations.

Babcock and Davies haven’t found any similar certification course in the country. Davies says at least one major short-term rental platform has expressed interest in directing its hosts to the certification course. She sees the potential of the course to go beyond Southern Nevada because municipalities across the country have grappled with the same licensing and enforcement issues seen here.

Davies sees only the upside.

“It helps everyone,” she says. “Better management, best practices, better rates, better compliance…”

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Julie Davies' name. | (December 27, 2017)