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City moves to define, prohibit short-term rentals

Short-term rentals are still illegal in Boulder City.

The City Council declined, in a special meeting recently to amend Title 11 of the city code to allow for short-term rentals. But there may be some confusion among the public about that vote.

At last week’s meeting of the Planning Commission, which had actual changes to Title 11 on the agenda, a comment submitted by a member of the public was read into the record. The comment confused the fact that the council had voted not to amend Title 11 to allow for short-term rentals with the council voting to take no action.

The crucial thing not addressed in that public comment — which urged the city to allow short-term rentals saying that failing to do so would deprive property owners of their rights and lead to lawsuits — was that the council directed city staff to come back with changes to Title 11 of the city code to formalize the fact that short-term rentals are not (and have never been) a legal use of property in Boulder City.

Last week that process took another step forward as city staff brought a series of proposed measures to the Planning Commission that would define short-term rentals and add them to the official list of prohibited uses of property in Boulder City code.

There were three changes total brought forward by city staff for consideration.

The first would amend Chapter 11 of Title 11 to add a formal definition of short-term rentals as, “A dwelling unit or any portion of such dwelling unit, rented in exchange for remuneration for occupancy for a period of less than 30 consecutive calendar days, or, in February, less than 28 consecutive calendar days, counting portions of a day as full days.”

The second change would amend the portion of Chapter 11 that lists officially prohibited uses of property in areas zoned for residential purposes. Added to the 13 already-prohibited uses (which includes auto repair, vehicle painting, TV repair, “adult” businesses and uses and live broadcasting via the internet), the proposed amendment would add a 14th prohibited use: short-term rentals.

The third proposed amendment makes some changes to the enforcement portion of city code to clarify that violations of Title 11 would result in a property being deemed a public nuisance and that each day of prohibited use constitutes a separate offense.

The Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend that the City Council adopt the amendments presented. The commission recommendation will be agendized for a future meeting of the council, possibly as soon as the meeting scheduled for Nov. 14.

Enforcement is a little more complicated. City code currently does not have a fine structure in place for property owners using their property as a short-term rental. Assuming the council votes to adopt the recommendation of the Planning Commission, they would then have to go through the same process in order to institute fines.

In some cases of a property deemed to be a public nuisance, the city can use the abatement process under which the property owner is notified of the issue and told to rectify it. After a series of notifications, if action is not taken, the city can move to “abate” the nuisance itself and bill the property owner for the work. If the property owner does not pay the bill, the city can put a lien on the property.

But that process does not work for short-term rentals.

“Nevada law only allows abatement of an abandoned nuisance or a chronic nuisance,” City Manager Taylour Tedder said in a statement provided by the city. “Not all public nuisances can be abated by the city.”

Tedder continued, “The proposed code change would clarify that short-term rentals are a prohibited home-occupied business. The proposed code change would also allow Title 11 violations to be cited as a civil public nuisance through Title 8, Chapter 1. Title 8, Chapter 1 requires the City Council to enact a fine structure via resolution which will be brought to City Council at a future time.”

While other meetings on this subject brought out many members of the public who wished to comment both in favor of and in opposition to short-term rentals, the planning commission had just a couple of comments submitted in advance and just one person in chambers.

Chelsea Gallagher told the commission that she owns a Boulder City property that is currently used as a short-term rental and that the experience has been good both for her and her customers.

“We’re not bringing in riff-raff,” she said. She urged the city to put the issue of short-term rentals to a vote, noting that most of her customers don’t cook and are instead patronizing local restaurants and other businesses.

Commission member Matt Di Teresa said, “There is a mechanism to get this before the people and it’s called a ballot initiative. I’ve stood out in front of the credit union gathering signatures for three or four different ballot questions. and I would suggest that would be the best way to get this in front of the voters.”

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