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Short-term rentals in BC? Still Illegal

In a special meeting called for Thursday, Sept. 21 to discuss short-term rentals in Boulder City, the crucial local interest was dealt with at the very beginning as Mayor Joe Hardy noted that the annual Homecoming Parade for Boulder City High School was scheduled for a couple of hours after the meeting started and that, if the meeting was not concluded by the time the parade started, the council would recess so everyone in chambers could go outside and cheer.

It was a prescient move as, including the recess, the meeting went well over three hours.

“The intent of this meeting is for staff to have direction regarding short-term rentals in Boulder City. Currently, they are prohibited by code,” Hardy said as the meeting got underway. “I kindly ask that there are no side conversations to distract listeners from hearing every person who will share on the floor. And hope that we can have decorum in how we treat each other.”

The room was packed.

“I don’t know how to say this real politely, so I am just going to spit it out,” said Mary Alice West, the first person to speak in the public comment period. “I don’t think Boulder City can manage STRs,” she said using a shorthand acronym to refer to short-term rentals. “We’ve had illegal operation of STRs going on for years and no one has done anything about it, not this council, not previous councils.”

Steve Griffin, another resident opposed to STRs in Boulder City had a unique perspective as someone who had actually been an AirBnB host in another location for about 11 years prior to moving to Boulder City eight years ago. He spoke about the “social disharmony” that he experienced in his own neighborhood as STRs became more common.

“You’ll hear many people say, ‘Oh, I screen my potential clients closely. If there is a problem, just call me and I’ll take care of it.’ Well, the problem becomes that it’s not that easy,” he said. “I can tell you, personally, I screened with a fine-toothed comb the clients, the guests who rented my place and things would still pop up. The greatest-looking family in the world would have an event in the middle of the night and I would get a call. Whether it was behavior, language, drunkenness, you name it, things always popped up. And once it occurred, it was too late to really do anything about it.”

Lorene Krumm is a former city clerk and a current member of the Boulder City Planning Commission. Her comments included an observation about consistency of enforcement of zoning codes and businesses licenses. “You cannot enforce the zoning code arbitrarily. You can’t come after the Mary Kay sales lady and the nice choir teacher offering piano and voice lessons in her home for a business license and turn a blind eye to the operation of a commercial business in a residential zone,” she said, referring the the owners of STRs who are currently operating illegally.

Nearly a dozen Boulder City residents spoke out against STRs before anyone came to the podium in support of them. Travis Schur said that he and his wife operate eight STRs, most in Henderson with one in Boulder City. “99.9% of the people who travel through our properties are not the nightmare stories,” he said. “We have invested about $3.5 million into our operation. We actually have two virtual assistants that monitor our properties 24/7. Cameras in the front, cameras in the back, noise monitors. If someone is in my backyard dropping the F-bomb, they are going to be notified within minutes, not by a neighbor calling me.”

He noted that he and his wife own a house in Boulder City that is an STR and that they invested $700,000 in it. He encouraged the council to adopt a model similar to the one in Henderson.

In the end, public comment was pretty evenly split between residents, many from the same neighborhood with a problematic STR run by a foreign LLC called My Global Village and a group of STR owners, most of whom do not live in Boulder City.

Seeking input from residents, the city hosted an online survey about STRs which recently came to a close. The 717 responses to the survey showed an even split on the question of whether to allow them. But when the data is filtered to show only results for residents, a slim majority are in favor of prohibition. If STRs were to be allowed and regulated, 64% would be in favor of a conditional use process where each STR owner would have to apply for a permit and have that approved by both the planning commission and the City Council in open meetings that allowed for public comment.

The vast majority - 85% - want standards to be spelled out if STRs were to be allowed. A slim majority of 51% want the owner to reside in the house which would make renting an entire home for less than 30 days illegal. Exactly half of respondents wanted distance requirements so there could not be multiple STRs bunched into one neighborhood. Additionally, 65% wanted limits on the number of STRs that any individual or corporate entity could own in the city.

Community Development Director Micheal Mays gave a presentation to the council. In addition to presenting the results of the survey, he went over, as he has in past meetings, how other local jurisdictions, including Henderson and North Las Vegas, handle STRs. It is important to note that the state law that required municipalities to allow and regulate STRs does not apply to Boulder City. As a state senator, Hardy shepherded through an exception for cities with populations under 25,000.

Currently, STRs exist in a kind of legal no-man’s land. They are not explicitly an allowed usage, which makes them technically illegal. However there are no regulations in the city code actually outlawing the existence of STRs, leading some owners to assume they are legal.

Mays reported that anytime someone has contacted his department inquiring about STRs, they have been told that they are not an allowed use within Boulder City.

The purpose of the meeting was so staff could receive direction from the council — continue to prohibit STRs or draft new regulations allowing and regulating them.

After a 20-minute parade break, the council reconvened with questions and comments. Councilmember Sherri Jorgensen said she could see both sides of the issue and that she had spent the last month asking everyone she came in contact with if they live in Boulder City and, if so, what is their opinion on STRs.

“I don’t want to make this decision just based on how I feel about things. I would say it’s been about a 90% no and a 10% yes,” she said adding that she had asked more than 100 people and had spent time in the homes of both people who are STR hosts and residents who have complained about the practice.

Councilmember Cokie Booth reported doing a similar casual survey and that most people didn’t seem to care about STRs in general but were strongly opposed to one in their neighborhood.

Councilmember Matt Fox was the only member of the council to speak in favor of STRs noting that Boulder City is a destination town and that hotel rooms can be hard to find and saying that it would be better to keep visitors in town than have to send them elsewhere for lodging.

Councilmember Steve Walton called himself a “property-rights person up and down, true blue,” but added that he does not see the STR issue as being one of property rights “in a vacuum.”

Noting that Title 11 of city code which outlines property uses that are permitted, he asked, “The question becomes, then, do we want to change Title 11 or not?” he asked. “It becomes that simple. Do we feel that there is a compelling reason to alter the current code?”

Walton noted that when he was running for office, he had many people tell him variations of the same thing. “I moved here for a reason and I stay here for a reason.”

He described multiple examples of small towns that had seen additional pressures on overall housing stock due to a proliferation of STRs. “I don’t believe that allowing the unknown of short-term rentals to potentially proliferate the way the history has shown they do in other communities is preserving Boulder City.”

Hardy wrapped up the council comments by saying, “It’s my fault. AB383, during the legislative session in 2021, this bill came up and I had the opportunity to amend the bill so that it would not apply to Boulder City. So my district could have their autonomy to do what they wanted to do. I do not want Clark County or another municipality or somewhere else in the state being in control of what we do in Boulder City.”

The final vote to leave Title 11 in place and continue to prohibit STRs in Boulder City passed on a 4-1 vote with Fox voting nay.

The result could be described as a continuation of the status quo: STRs are not listed under Title 11 as an allowed usage. That means they are still illegal. How that will be enforced was not directly addressed by the council.

Look, up in the sky…

Ron Eland/Boulder City Review

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