Scottsdale residents came out in droves on last Wednesday to speak with city officials about a proposed nuisance ordinance that would allow the city to impose stiffer penalties to discourage unruly or illegal parties in neighborhoods.
Though the ordinance would apply to all private property in Scottsdale, public comments at the meeting made it clear that the nuisance ordinance discussion was a proxy for Scottsdale residents’ ongoing battle with short-term rentals.
At last count, there were approximately 4,000 short-term rentals in operation in Scottsdale, said Raun Keagy, Scottsdale’s planning and development area director.
“As far as the types of homes, owner occupied versus rental, I would say that the majority of the complaints that we receive…are from rental properties,” Keagy said.
Keagy said the number of complaints to the city for nuisance parties has gone up in connection with the rise in popularity of short-term rentals.
But Keagy also said the city has always has these issues, especially surrounding special events like the Super Bowl.
The proposed ordinance, expected to be considered by the City Council on Sept. 24, would allow fines if police determine a gathering is a nuisance, unlawful or “a threat to the public peace, health, safety or general welfare.”
According to the ordinance, factors that police will consider in determining if a party is a nuisance or unlawful include minors drinking or possessing alcohol, drug use, public urination, indecent exposure, littering, blocking public thoroughfares, weapons violations or other felonies.
Councilwoman Solange Whitehead called the ordinance “a good first step” and encouraged residents to contact state representatives about the issue.
Under the proposed ordinance, the city could assess a police fee of $250 following the first response to a nuisance party at a property. That fee would jump to $1,000 for a second violation within 90 days and $1,500 for a third violation.
The city could also asses a first-time fee of $500 and second-time fee of $1,500 on property owner’s who allow nuisance parties or unlawful gatherings on their property.
Keagy said the city’s ordinance is modeled after a similar ordinance in City of Tempe.
Tempe currently assesses the same fees as those proposed in the Scottsdale ordinance.
Though Keagy did not have statistics on hand, he said he had been told anecdotally by Tempe officials that its ordinance had helped reduce nuisance gatherings.
One Scottsdale resident for 40 years shared anecdotes echoed by over a dozen speakers.
She said partiers at rentals in her neighborhood regularly overfill trashcans, play loud music at 2 a.m., urinate in public and park illegally.
Of the dozen or so residents who spoke at the meeting, only one did not speak negatively of short-term rentals.
Saying he operates a short-term rental in Scottsdale, the speaker acknowledged there are some irresponsible operators but said he and his wife are respectful to neighbors.
Whitehead said she picked up a number of good ideas at the meeting that she might bring back to council, including increasing the police response fees and creating a dedicated city webpage just for complaints about short-term rentals.
Though most of the 100-person crowd supported the ordinance, many believed it does not go far enough.
“You need to just put a stop to these Airbnbs altogether,” one citizen said.
But, when it comes to these rentals, the city’s hands are tied.
In 2017, the Arizona Legislature passed a law prohibiting cities or towns from banning short-term rentals or restricting those rentals simply based on the use category.
If cities create laws in conflict with state law, they risk losing funding from the state.
The cities got some power back in May when the Governor signed into law a bill sponsored by Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Scottsdale, that includes fines between $250 and $1,500 for violations.
The new law allows cities to require property owners operating short-term rentals to keep emergency contact information on file with the city, and requires them to have a state transaction privilege tax license.
It also prohibits the use of short-term rentals for non-residential uses and special events that require a permit.
Keagy said the city will be updating its ordinance to take advantage of the new legislation.
Keagy, Whitehead and other city representatives on hand at the meeting encouraged residents to contact their state legislators and the Governor’s Office to push for changes at the state level to allow local governments to further regulate rentals.
That appears unlikely, though.
In announcing the signing of Kavanagh’s bill, Gov. Doug Ducey wrote, “After solving this important enforcement challenge, I am hopeful that additional legislation regulating short-term rentals will not be needed.”
“We need an uproar,” Whitehead said. “And the governor needs to understand that this is not pro-business, it is anti-community.”