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Council moves closer to STR ban

This was just the warm-up.

At their meeting on March 12, the city council took the next-to-final step in the year-long march to formalize the city’s unwritten prohibition on the operation of short-term rentals (STR) within Boulder City. That step consisted of approving a business impact study prior to changing city code and establishing specific fees and fines.

The council also moved to allow the introduction of bills that would be debated and voted on in the council meeting scheduled for March 26. The two bills introduced would finalize the process of a formal prohibition and establish an enforcement mechanism as well as fines for non-compliance. Note that the fines for STRs fall under the heading of a public nuisance. The other item introduced would establish fees and fines related to pet breeders and fosters operating within Boulder City. Again, these items will be debated and voted up or down on March 26.

On the narrow matter of approving the business impact statement, the vote was unanimous. Note that, in this case, that meant a 4-0 vote as Councilmember Matt Fox was not present. When the council voted last year to not amend Title 11 of the city code to allow STRs, Fox was the only dissenting voice in a 4-1 vote.

To review: STRs have always been illegal in Boulder City under the theory that any non-permitted use is prohibited. It is not possible to get a permit to run an STR in a residential unit and therefore, according to the city’s official stance, they are prohibited.

Complications and a need to formalize this came about when the Nevada state Legislature passed a bill in 2021, which mandated that municipalities within the state had to issue rules to allow and regulate STRs.

However, an exception was carved out for cities with a population of less than 25,000. At just under 15,000 residents per the last available figures, Boulder City does not have to regulate or allow STRs. They can simply prohibit them.

It is worth noting that the state senator who worked to allow that carve-out was Joe Hardy, who is now the mayor of Boulder City.

Public comment for items on the agenda was all centered on the business impact study with one resident and business owner complaining that the communication they received from the city was vague and did not give him sufficient time to reply and a second resident encouraging the council to enact strict regulations barring STRs.

This speaker also pointed out that the current marshal of the Clark County Justice Court for Boulder Township, Dane Szafranski and his wife, local attorney and candidate for Boulder Township justice of the peace, Lauren Szafranski were operating an STR illegally.

Also note that Dane Szafranski has filed a complaint with the Nevada attorney general’s office alleging that the city council violated state open meeting laws in their consideration of formalizing the prohibition on STRs.

In meetings like this, it is not unusual for council members to ask questions of city staff that they already know the answers to. Generally, these questions are asked in order to get the reply on the public record. That was the case this week when Councilmember Steve Walton said he had received phone calls asking about this issue.

“I am going to ask you questions that will allow you to give explanations,” he said. “They are not questions that I have but I think they are questions that bear explanation.”

Walton started by asking Community Development Director Michael Mays to explain a business impact study.

“It is required by state law,” Mays said. “Any law that a municipality is proposing that may potentially impact a business within the community, requires the municipality to prepare that business impact statement and notify businesses of the potential cost of doing business within the community.”

Responding to criticism about notification, Mays said that every licensed business in Boulder City was notified by mail and by email and that the city had also notified the Chamber of Commerce.

Note that because it is not possible to get a business license in BC for an STR, it is not clear if the owners of the approximately 20 properties within the city offering to rent properties on a short-term basis via various online platforms would have received the notification.

Responding to a question from Councilmember Sherri Jorgensen about code enforcement, Mays reported that does not send inspectors out looking for violations and that, instead, code enforcement in Boulder City is complaint-based. In other words, if someone contacts the city to complain, then someone will go out and inspect for a violation.

Councilmember Cokie Booth asked for an explanation of the difference between civil and criminal penalties. Mays responded by explaining that prior to a change in August of 2023, all code enforcement for public nuisance violations fell under a criminal heading which present the city with a need to establish a case with a much higher burden of proof.

After a joking remark by Mayor Joe Hardy that this was about not having a “bunch of criminals” in Boulder City and instead handling the issues civilly, Walton added that a change to a civil process would allow the city to do “meaningful enforcement to codes that are violated,” saying that it has been difficult historically for the city to put teeth into code enforcement given the higher burden of proof in a criminal matter.

Both council and staff said that there was no intention to hire additional staff for code enforcement.

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