Short-term rental meeting Tuesday September 16, 2019

The City of Tempe hosted a meeting last night for all those concerned about short-term rentals. About 70 attended, in the Pyle Center. The principal speaker was Lauren Kuby, vice-mayor. She said that SB1350 “took away” Tempe’s authority to regulate short-term rentals and the purpose of the meeting was to solicit feedback as the city harmonizes its enforcement policy with state law.

State law is a work in progress. SB1350 was amended in the last session to require owners of short-term rental properties to make themselves contactable. In the current session, HB2672, which further regulates short-term rentals, has passed the House.

Feedback was of two types: Five or six people spoke about how their neighborhoods are being ruined by short-term rentals. They complained of traffic, illegal parking, noise, and public drunkenness. They said they complained repeatedly to the city authorities and were always told there was nothing the city could do. An equal number of people spoke as either owners or managers of short-term rentals. Three of them reside in their rental properties and rent out spare bedrooms. They argued that responsible short-term renting does not create problems in the neighborhood.

Some interesting things were asserted in the ensuing discussion: (1) although Transaction Privilege Tax (TPT) disks are not yet required by the city, Airbnb and VRBO require them of their landlords; (2) one landlord asserts that the business is very hard, and that, in his opinion, many of the current crop of landlords will fail, and that no landlord has a chance unless they rent through Airbnb or VRBO; and (3) there is a technology available that permits landlords to count the number of WiFi connections in their rentals, presumably as a proxy for the number of residents.

A state representative, Isela Blanc, who represents LD-26, spoke in favor of HB2672. She also claimed that the short-term rental problem is somehow related to the “lack of affordable housing,” but she did not explain how. Two officials from the Tempe Community Development Department said that they have no power to deny planning permission to multi-family housing proposed in single-family neighborhoods.

There was little response to the city’s claim that it is powerless. I asked why the city has chosen not to enforce its consanguinity ordinance. Ms Kuby said there is “federal case law” that might make that ordinance difficult to enforce. She promised me exact citations, which I will publish here when I get them.

Here is the city’s own report of the meeting, by Elizabeth Higgins to the Council, on 19 September: The relevant part of the meeting begins at 2:17:30 and lasts 13 minutes. I believe they agreed to continue doing nothing for six months.

It is possible to read and understand SB1350 (now ARS 9-500.39), linked here:

The first paragraph directs cities not to discriminate against short-term rentals, but the paragraph immediately following requires them to protect the public’s health and safety, i.e. enforce city zoning ordinances. The claim that SB1350 has rendered cities powerless is untrue.

We must speculate why Tempe claims it is without authority. Certainly Tempe is not historically shy when it opposes state law. The state has for many years tried to get cities to hold their elections in November, when the turnout is many times greater than the turnout experienced in off-cycle elections. Tempe’s next election for City Council is scheduled for the spring of 2020. Ms Kuby’s claim that “federal case law” prohibits enforcement of Tempe’s consanguinity ordinance is ironic for anyone who remembers her presentation, also at the Pyle Center, on the need for a city ordinance to outlaw “dark money.” A member of the audience asked if there were any jurisprudence on the subject of dark money, and either Ms Kuby or her deputy (I don’t remember) replied, “there is none.” A better answer might have been the 1958 US Supreme Court holding in NAACP v Alabama, where the court ruled that Alabama had no right to force the NAACP to disclose its donors. The city finds federal case law when it needs it. The state has a law which largely prohibits Tempe’s dark money ordinance.

I know of no better explanation for Tempe’s policy than the City Council’s hostility toward low-density housing. Every presentation about the Urban Core plan always begins with the admission that mass transit has failed in Tempe and, therefore, all city planning must encourage greater population density.

Here is a link to Representative John Kavanagh’s video about his bill HB2672: