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October 24, 2017

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Las Vegas puts more restrictions on short-term rentals

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Mikayla Whitmore

Residents listen to comments on proposed amendments to Las Vegas ordinances regarding short-term rental properties during the Recommending Committee meeting in Council Chambers at Las Vegas City Hall in Downtown Las Vegas, Nev. on Monday, June 19, 2017..

Updated Wednesday, June 21, 2017 | 7 p.m.

The Las Vegas City Council today narrowly approved additional restrictions on short-term rental properties like those listed on web platforms such as Airbnb.

Mayor Carolyn Goodman and council members Lois Tarkanian, Ricki Barlow and Bob Coffin voted for the controversial bill. Council members Steve Ross, Bob Beers and Stavros Anthony voted against it.

The issue pits neighborhood residents frustrated with so-called party houses against currently licensed short-term operators who feel they are being unjustly punished for the misconduct of a few unlicensed bad seeds.

Airbnb Committee Session

Residents address council members  on proposed amendments to Las Vegas ordinances regarding short-term rental properties, during the Recommending Committee meeting in Council Chambers at Las Vegas City Hall in Downtown Las Vegas, Nev. on Monday, June 19, 2017.. Launch slideshow »

With the bill’s passing, homeowners interested in renting out their properties for 30 days or less will now have to apply for a special-use permit in addition to the business license already required by the city. The passed bill also sets maximum occupancy limits, bans events and parties on the properties, and requires proof of liability insurance coverage of at least $500,000.

For properties with five bedrooms or more, a licensed security company must be used to respond to complaints within two hours.

Owner-operated units with three bedrooms or less are exempt from the special-use permit requirement, unless they are located within 660 feet of an existing licensed short-term rental. The 660-foot separation of short-term rental properties already existed within the city.

Applying for a special-use permit costs $1,030. The council briefly discussed waiving the fee for existing licensees or grandfathering in those with existing licensees so they would not need a special-use permit, but no official motion was made.

Operators found violating these terms would also be subject to a two-strike policy before losing their permit or license.

The ordinance was spearheaded by Tarkanian, who has been working on the issue for approximately a decade.

“What is a neighborhood? I looked it up in the dictionary,” she said. “A neighborhood is a group of people living near each other that share the same goals and have common interests. I submit that short-term rentals and their users do not share similar goals with the homeowners in the Las Vegas areas most affected by these.”

Tarkanian added that the priority of the council members needs to be residents of the city and their safety, not businesses, which is what short-term rentals are.

But licensed short-term rental operators say the tightened regulations will not protect neighborhoods because the hundreds of unlicensed units existing today will continue to operate illegally.

Enforcement, not additional regulation is needed, they argued.

“This is just going to make everything worse,” said Julie Davis with the Vegas Vacation Rental Association, which advocated hard in opposition of the bill. “They’ve just put legal operators out of business. Everyone else will go underground.”

J.C. Shields, a property manager for several licensed short-term rentals within the city, said he moved here in 2014 because the existing ordinances were favorable to such properties. Now that they’ve changed, he thinks he’ll have to move.

“It’s too much of a gamble,” he says of having to go through the special-use permit process.

Airbnb spokesperson Jasmine Mora sent this statement via email after the vote: "While dozens of cities around the globe are embracing the economic benefits of home sharing, today's decision is a step in the wrong direction that threatens an important economic lifeline for thousands of Las Vegas families. There are common sense solutions to address specific concerns and Airbnb is eager to work with policy makers to develop a better approach.”

Council members Beers, Anthony and Ross all questioned whether the bill would have its intended effect, which was to crack down on party houses and the resulting empty beer bottles, drugs, parking and loud noise that residents must endure.

“You have to find out which short-term rentals are causing problems and you have to hammer them,” said Anthony. “You have to shut them down — $10,000 worth of fines, whatever it takes. Get rid of them. Once you do that, you’ll solve the problem.”

Councilman Coffin countered that you cannot separate short-term rentals and party houses because the only difference is who is renting it on any given weekend.

“There is no skating around it,” he said. “Short-term rental is the root of the problem. It’s just a party house wrapped in a different wrapper.”

Coffin also noted that he has requested an agenda item to augment the city budget to give more money to code enforcement so they can better address the issue.

Tarkanian noted that, in addition to the tightened restrictions, city staff is working on improving enforcement opportunities. Before the end of July, they hope to launch a 24-hour hotline that residents can call to report short-term rental violations. They are also exploring ways to improve communication with Metro and partnering with city marshals and constables.