illustration by Angelina Aragon

Animal BnB

Written by Marilyn Hawkes Category: Valley News Issue: November 2017
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Are Airbnb guests wreaking havoc in Valley neighborhoods?

After 18 months of searching, homebuyers Santo and Libby found the perfect ranch-style house in South Scottsdale. The couple (who requested their last names be withheld) made an offer on the spot. “We’re both from the Midwest, and this has a nice neighborhood feel to it,” Libby says.

This May, they moved in. Shortly after, they say, parties started next door, with loud music and profanity-laced banter at all hours and cars lining the once tranquil streets. One July night, Santo looked over the fence to investigate and saw “some naked old dudes [and women] running around... doing a topless contest.” He went next door to get more information. A man said he could come in, but it would cost $80 for booze and “entertainment.”

A few weeks later, a woman pounded on a neighbor’s door at 2 a.m. crying that her friend was being sexually assaulted at the “party house.” Police were called and the situation was deemed consensual. Another weekend, a bus deposited 30 people at the five-bedroom house. As neighbors reeled from the ruckus, they learned the house, reportedly sold to investors, was being rented through online lodging service Airbnb.

These are a few of the many scenarios playing out across the state since the Arizona Legislature in January 2017 passed Senate Bill 1350, which restricts cities, towns and counties from regulating short-term rentals. Before then, many cities, including Scottsdale and Paradise Valley, had regulations prohibiting rentals fewer than 30 days.

The bill, sponsored by Arizona Senate Majority Whip Debbie Lesko (R), is a boon to companies like Airbnb, VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owner) and HomeAway that broker short-term rentals for homeowners. The law requires the companies to collect taxes from hosts and give the money to the state, which the Arizona Department of Revenue then distributes to the cities.

Lesko says she got the idea from Governor Doug Ducey’s 2016 State of the State speech’s idea of a sharing economy, an economic system that makes it easier for businesses to operate without fear of restrictions and allows people to use their assets to make money. “His philosophy, and my philosophy, is less government regulation,” she says. After Airbnb approached her, she initiated the legislation “so that we could help people that are trying to make extra money,” she says.

Some Valley residents are doing just that. In the same neighborhood where Santo and Libby bristle against rowdy renters, Natalie and Tony are renting their home through Airbnb and VRBO due to Tony’s job relocation. “We hope to move back in two to three years, and we’re doing this to pay some of the expenses of keeping it,” Natalie says. “And we’re trying to be good neighbors.”

Laura Rillos, Airbnb’s public affairs press secretary, echoes that sentiment. “The overwhelming majority of Airbnb hosts and guests are good neighbors and respectful travelers, but when issues happen, we work to make things right. We have no tolerance for disruptive party behavior.” Many who live near raucous rentals, often luxury homes with resort-style pools and proximity to nightlife districts, tell a different story. Santo and Libby say they have emailed Airbnb, with no response. Other neighbors have complained to the Airbnb host.

Scottsdale City Councilman Guy Phillips opposed SB 1350. While he doesn’t have a beef with the short-term rental model, Phillips objects to them in residential neighborhoods. “You should be able to move into a family neighborhood and it should remain a family neighborhood.” SB 1350 still gives cities, towns and counties the ability to regulate vacation rentals for protection of the public’s health and safety, which includes issues related to sanitation, traffic, parking, property maintenance and noise.

Santo and Libby are settling into their home and plan to remodel, despite the commotion. “We love the neighborhood, but know it would be way lovelier without a raging bachelor party or swingers’ party next door every weekend,” Santo says.

Airbnb by the Numbers
$45.8 mill. - Total economic impact, including host income and estimated guest spending, generated by Airbnb hosts and guests in eight cities in the Phoenix metro area during the six-week stretch of spring training in 2017

9,200 - Guests to the Phoenix area for the Final Four in March/April 2017

329,000 - Total guest arrivals to Arizona in 2016, including 54,000 in Phoenix and 48,000 in Scottsdale

$4,900 - The amount of money the typical Airbnb host in Arizona earns per year

42 - Number of nights the typical listing in Arizona is booked per year

Source: Laura Rillos, Airbnb.com