Young family with two children packing for holiday.

“We’re proud of the open-for-business reputation that Arizona has.’’

 

A legislative panel is debating whether to restore the right of cities and towns to regulate short-term vacation rentals – a right that legislators and Gov. Doug Ducey took away from them three years ago.

But the idea already is getting a chilly reception from the governor.

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Scottsdale, who chairs the committee, said the law was sold to legislators as a way of helping homeowners earn some extra money by renting out a spare bedroom, perhaps to a visiting foreign student.

Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, said that gives cities and towns all the authority they need to enforce basic safety and health regulations, things like noise and trash.

But Kavanagh – who co-chairs the panel and voted against the 2016 law – said the reality is that a large share of the homes offered for rent through companies like Airbnb and VRBO are actually owned by people who don’t live there and have simply purchased the house for the specific purpose of renting it out to those who may stay just a few days.

Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, said having short-term rentals in what had been a neighborhood of owner-occupied homes means the people who live there year-round don’t know who is coming and going. The result, she said, is she’s not comfortable leaving her grandchildren outside.

“It changes the character of a residential neighborhood,’’ she said.

Matt Miller, an attorney for the Goldwater Institute, brushed aside those concerns.

“Is that the role of government to come in and say that houses have to be owned by people who are going to live there for a year so that all the neighbors can know each other?’’ he said. “I don’t think that’s the role of government.’’

Brophy McGee said that misses the point.

“It’s understanding if you’re buying a property next to a hotel what you’re going to get, which is people coming, people going, different people,’’ she said. But Brophy McGee said the folks who are concerned bought their homes in areas specifically zoned for residential use.

Miller’s comments also drew an angry reaction from Rep. Isela Blanc, D-Tempe, who said there’s a world of difference between having neighbors who live there full time versus absentee owners who create de facto hotels by in residential areas, renting out the houses to different people on a daily or weekly basis.

“Why are my property rights less valuable than the person who is choosing to run a business next door to me without the proper zoning and consumer protections, neighborhood protections, neighbor protections?’’ she asked.

Miller was unconvinced.

Kavanagh said the 2016 law created another problem. He said entire neighborhoods in some communities have now been converted into short-term rentals, drying up the availability of affordable rental housing.

The solution in Kavanagh’s mind is to once again let local city and town councils decide what restrictions work best.

That could include limiting the number of short-term rentals, both in any specific neighborhood as well as overall in the community. And Kavanagh said a limit on occupancy based on the number of bedrooms also makes sense.

But Ducey, who championed the 2016 law – and would have to sign any new restrictions – contended, “We’re proud of the open-for-business reputation that Arizona has.’’

“What we didn’t want is a patchwork of different laws throughout the state,’’ he said. “We think that’s bad policy. It’s not friendly to a growing economy.’’

Ducey, however, had to back down a bit when he signed a new law earlier this year restoring to communities the ability to crack down what are considered the more blatant abuses.

It spells out that homes cannot be used for parties, restaurants, sales or other non-residential purposes and requires owners to provide a point of contact for police to call if there are problems. There also are fines for violations, potentially up to half the gross monthly proceeds after multiple violations.

Kavanagh, who is a former police officer, said, “It’s almost impossible to enforce these things. Police officers have to witness violations. So, when the police car pulls up, ‘Shhh, cops!’ Everybody’s quiet.’’

The committee is set to have at least two more hearings before the Legislature reconvenes in January.