While discussing adopting a new ordinance in the ongoing effort to fight unruly short-term rental properties in Paradise Valley, a power struggle between two local leaders presented itself at the dais.
A relatively new ruling by the Arizona Legislature is giving the Town of Paradise Valley an incremental step in the right direction to curb problematic short-term rental operators.
House Bill 2672, adopted last spring, and signed by Gov. Doug Ducey on May 21, says legislation is now providing cities and towns the ability to adopt regulations requiring short-term rental property owners to provide contact information, and to respond promptly to complaints, as well as limiting the use of short-term rentals to residential uses.
Town Attorney Andrew Miller brought the option forward to Town Council during its Dec. 5 study session meeting. The group agreed it would like to adopt an ordinance implementing tenets of legislation made possible with passage of the state bill at a January Town Council meeting.
“It’s not enough, but it’s a step in the right direction,” Mr. Miller said during his presentation to the council.
While talking about the new ordinance, Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner confronted Councilmember Mark Stanton --- who’s employed as the president and CEO of the Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce --- about his position on the issue.
Pointing to a press release that ran in the Scottsdale Independent, Mr. Bien-Willner referenced a quote he understood to be Mr. Stanton lauding the efforts of a short-term rental operator.
“I want to make sure we’re all open with each other as far as what our positions are on this matter,” Mr. Bien-Willner said.
The press release in Scottsdale’s Hometown Newspaper --- the Independent --- relates to a Chamber event coined the Sterling Awards, which recognizes local companies. A short-term rental operator was named one of 12 finalists for an award, and Mr. Stanton was quoted recognizing accomplishments and innovation by the companies.
“In light of the resident inquiries that we get, and people can certainly take different positions on issues --- it would help me and many other councilmembers in knowing where you stand on this issue when you’re singling out a vacation rental operator,” Mr. Bien-Willner said.
“These are the kinds of questions, by the way, that I take at the state Legislature.”
Mr. Bien-Willner is assisting a joint Arizona Legislature ad-hoc committee evaluating the impacts of the short-term rentals on local communities. Last month, a handful of legislators called for the repeal of Senate Bill 1350, known as the “Airbnb Bill,” which restricts municipalities from regulating the rental option.
Mr. Stanton explained his quote related to the awards overall, not the specific short-term rental company.
“So, are you misquoted?” Mr. Bien-Willner asked, as the two evaluated word-by-word what the quote means.
“I think the award program recognizes the excellence in different categories, I’m referring to the overall category and not the specific company,” Mr. Stanton said.
Pulling out the Chamber’s mission statement, Mr. Bien-Willner asked if Mr. Stanton advocates for the short-term rental company, since it’s a member of the organization.
When asked directly if he advocates for the members of the chamber, Mr. Stanton said, “in general,” he does.
“I don’t see a connection,” Mr. Stanton said.
Mr. Bien-Willner asked what he should tell the Arizona Legislature, when they ask him about one of his councilmembers recognizing a short-term rental company.
“Because when I was in front of the state Legislature, I was telling them we’re uniformly in support of local control on this issue, and we think it has adverse impacts on our community,” Mr. Bien-Willner said. “That’s what I’m trying to understand. I want to have this discussion publicly because like I said, that is a public document.”
Mr. Stanton continued to explain the Chamber award categories and nominations.
“There were 12 categories, there were 12 finalists in the category, so I’m referring to all of them as being leaders in whatever their categories are. But not advocating or endorsing any one of them,” Mr. Stanton said.
After a long pause, Mr. Bien-Willner responded he would refer folks to Mr. Stanton if they have a question about his position on short-term rentals.
Other councilmembers quizzed Mr. Stanton on the topic as well, seeking to fully understand the ins and outs of what the role of the Chamber is.
Councilmember Julie Pace said she also understood her colleagues to all be on the same page.
“Is everyone 100% on that? Does that make an issue for you?” Ms. Pace asked, to which Mr. Stanton responded that he is going on the record that state short-term rentals are a huge issue.
“But in Scottsdale, it may be different, and you have to advocate a different role as the head of the Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce?”
Ms. Pace asked again if the Chamber supports short-term rentals?
“No, they’re not pushing for Airbnb,” Mr. Stanton said, adding that he absolutely supports Mr. Bien-Willner in advocating for the town at the Legislature.
Councilmember Paul Dembow, reading directly from the Chamber’s website, says he thinks Mr. Stanton has a conflict of interest.
The membership page of the Chamber appears to have many members who buy and sell rental homes, Mr. Dembow said, before quoting the website: “Representation in the halls of government: The Chamber works directly with the Arizona State Legislature as part of the East Valley Chamber of Commerce Alliance, the state’s largest business lobbying organization. Therefore, chamber members benefit from the strength of many. From paid lobbyists at the State Capitol to strong and productive relationships with city elected officials and staff, your Chamber fights for legislation and ordinances that favor your business.”
“And you’re the head of that organization. I think you have a conflict of interest based on just what this says that your job is,” Mr. Dembow said.
Mr. Stanton said he has spent a lot of time with the town attorney and outside legal counsel to make sure he doesn’t have a conflict of interest.
“You sound like Biden,” Mr. Dembow refuted.
Vice Mayor Scoot Moore echoed the importance of understanding if all seven of the councilmembers were united on the issue, explaining when the mayor is at the Legislature, politicians are looking for ways to attack the town for their position on short-term rentals.
Overall, Mr. Bien-Willner says any member of council who puts out information that contradicts, or appears to contradict, what the council position is on an issue is problematic.
“For the town, not for me individually --- it’s not that I care that we’re going to get arrows thrown at us by some individuals who feel very strongly about keeping the status quo, but if there’s ammunition that comes at us --- not just me, our town manager, our outside help on this --- that we’re not aware of, that’s directly on point on this issue and public, it’s important for us to understand that,” Mr. Bien-Willner said.
“I was surprised to see this, frankly.”
Short-term rentals --- properties rented out by its owners for overnight guests and vacationers --- have plagued the Town Council, and many other municipalities, with issues in the past year or so.
HB 2672 clarifies that cities and towns can prohibit a short-term rental operator from using the property for non-residential purposes, including retail, restaurant, banquet space or other similar use. In addition, it allows municipalities to require that before offering for rent or renting a short-term rental, the owner must provide contact information for someone who is responsible for responding to complaints.
And, it provides for provisions that require the contact person to respond to complaints in a timely manner.
Mr. Miller says he believes a “timely manner” would be outlined as two hours for an incident.
The town has already passed and implemented an “unruly gathering” ordinance, which allows citations to be issued when the police department is called to a property more than once for issues such as noise, under-age drinking, a large group of people causing disruption or drug use.
Police Chief Peter Wingert, in an Independent Newsmedia forum in November, said even with the town’s unruly gathering policy, the issue before them is hard to overcome. One such issue is that when the police department issues a citation to renters, the next weekend there will be new guests on the property causing a ruckus yet again.
The new ordinance makes any violation punishable either as a criminal misdemeanor or a civil offense, with the charging decision by the police or code enforcement officer typically being related to the gravity of the particular offense and/or repeat offenses by the short-term rental.
“A lot of it’s going to depend on what the officers find at the scene,” Mr. Wingert said. “It’s going to be different if it’s a noise violation that’s within the town’s standards, they’ll just log it, do education at the door.”
Mr. Wingert says the police department typically sends a letter to the homeowners of short-term rentals after the police is called, reminding the owner of what’s allowable by their guests, such as the decibel of allowable noise.
Town Manager Jill Keimach said of staff resources to obtain contact information for the short-term rental property owners, the Town Clerk’s office is expecting a significant increase in time.
“This is a very extensive work product for mostly the Town Clerk,” Ms. Keimach said.
“We, the Town Clerk’s office, sent out 125 notices to the known short-term rentals that we get from host compliance. About 25 of them came back, either saying not deliverable, or through phone calls said ‘I no longer have this as a rental.’ Or, ‘I sold this and the new owners no longer have it as a rental.’”
Ms. Keimach says of the other 100 that did provide some information, the response wasn’t appropriate.
“So there’s a lot of follow up and trying to get that match, or don’t match what the county assessor’s information is. And, matching that with the police department --- so it’s not as simple as we send out letters and we’re going to get a 100% response.”
In addition, Ms. Keimach said there are some who may not want to give their information at all, which would require site visits.
All agree, not every short-term rental is a nuisance, but properties that serve as “party houses” or create disruption to neighborhoods are drawing ire fall and wide.
“I just want to be careful when we talk about we can do this, and we can do that, it’s not code enforcement and law enforcement that our town would design to meet our needs,” Mr. Bien-Willner said.
“It’s a state-level mandate. It’s little bit like, in my opinion, giving someone a squirt gun to stop a swarm of bees. You might deter some of them, but there will be some that are persistent.”