Las Vegas Sun

September 19, 2019

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Short-term rental violators in Clark County to be penalized on tax bill

Airbnb Committee Session

Mikayla Whitmore

Residents listen to comments on proposed amendments to Las Vegas ordinances regarding short-term rental properties, during a meeting at Las Vegas City Hall in downtown Las Vegas, Monday, June 19, 2017.

There are six vacation rental properties within two blocks of Mary Beth Heishman’s property in Spring Valley, many of which are advertised as “weekend party homes” that can accommodate hundreds of guests.

Although short-term rentals are prohibited in unincorporated Clark County, officials have struggled enforcing the ban with the growing popularity of vacation rental sites like Airbnb and Vrbo.

“Five hundred guests in a residential, rural neighborhood just blocks away from an elementary school is very shocking,” Heishman told the county commission on Tuesday.

In an attempt to curb its “party house” problem, commissioners approved an ordinance that would add fines to a homeowner's property tax bill. The ordinance begins shortly after Labor Day.

For the frustrated residents, any change is considered progress.

Other neighbors complained during the meeting about noise at late hours of the night and drunken drivers speeding up and down residential streets.

“The owners of these units aren’t playing by the rules, and businesses are causing inhabitability and safety problems,” resident James Butman said.

Officials previously would penalize vacation rental owners with a daily $1,000 fine and place liens on the property. But this method proved ineffective as liens could remain on a property for years with the owners not paying the fines, Code Enforcement Administrator Jim Anderson said.

Now the $1,000 fine, which is handed down after a code enforcement officer determines a house is being used as a vacation property, is added directly to the tax bill. Yet, the fine may not be steep enough to deter those looking for rent out their home.

Anderson said many property owners see the fines as a “cost of doing business.” In 2019, the county has issued 256 fines and collected $686,500, officials said.

“They’re the ones who have told me to my face that they make enough money, that fines aren’t going to stop them and they’ll keep doing it,” he said.

The change also removes the “rehabilitation plan” from the enforcement protocol. In the past, the property owner would receive a code violation notice instructing them to send a plan to the county on how they will shut down their operation. But that prolonged the process, Anderson said.

“Now when we send them a notice, it gives them a deadline to cease these operations,” he said.

Recent state legislation has also cut the time for a homeowner to have to pay the assessment to two and a half years before the county can sell the property. But there’s still more that needs to be done, said Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick.

“Maybe we could have a sit-down and LVCVA could remind folks that it’s illegal to rent in unincorporated Clark County,” she said. “At the end of the day, it is revenue that is lost when those folks are not staying on the Strip and then bringing it into neighborhoods, which causes havoc.”

Commissioner Lawrence Weekly said this renewed conversation on short-term rentals comes at a time when the Las Vegas area is expecting more visitors next year when the NFL’s Raiders move to town.

“With the anticipation of the NFL coming on board … there are hundreds of thousands of people that are going to be within our valley and yeah, our hotels are going to be sold out. That’s going to be great for us — but for our neighbors, get ready.”