The Battle Over Short-Term Rentals Rages On
Friends, I must speak from the heart on the contentious issue of short-term rentals—Genna and I are unwavering champions of robust and comprehensive regulations. As the Editor and Publisher of your local paper, we believe we must be transparent about where we stand. However, our stance is not a rejection of progress or property rights. On the contrary, we are fervent advocates of intelligent progress and hold property rights in the highest regard, just like any other cherished freedom we enjoy as Americans. Our position simply reflects the understanding that property rights should be respected for everyone.
The profound truth is that freedom must be accompanied by responsibility. Embracing progress requires the wisdom to act ethically and consider the greater good. We firmly believe that finding harmony between property rights and regulation is the key to respecting everyone’s rights—not just those who turn their residential homes into hotels.
Before we can begin to find a solution, we must clearly define the problem, which is this article’s intent. So, buckle in. It’s going to be an uncomfortable ride.
The Butterfly Effect
Ah, the inescapable trap of unintended consequences—an unwelcome guest that often accompanies seemingly noble ideas. It’s surprising how certain well-intentioned choices can lead to unforeseen and adverse effects on the world around us.
Take the ambitious push for renewable energy sources to create sustainable alternatives. While this is a worthy pursuit, the large-scale production of solar panels, wind turbines, and batteries for electric cars has led to an increase in over-mining of rare earth minerals and creates significant challenges for electronic waste disposal. In our efforts to safeguard the environment, we have unintentionally created another large ecological problem to grapple with. Is this the best plan?
Then there’s the convenience of single-use plastics, initially seen as a marvel of modern life, solving everyday problems of packaging and convenience. However, the proliferation of plastic products has led to a staggering problem of plastic pollution slowly chipping away at the beauty of our earth, harming marine life, degrading ecosystems, and threatening the delicate balance of our environment. Is convenience worth the price?
Further, consider the once-promising idea of subprime mortgages aimed at making homeownership more accessible to a broader population. Unfortunately, the lax lending practices associated with subprime mortgages triggered a global financial crisis, leaving many in financial ruin and shaking the very foundations of the world economy. This good idea was a devastating failure.
And let us not overlook the adverse effects of unregulated short-term rentals (STRs). While they may seem to offer an appealing solution for travelers and property owners alike, they lead to over-tourism, a devastating loss of affordable housing, artificially inflating housing prices, and disturbs the peace and harmony of residential neighborhoods. Worse, they tear apart the fabric of community bonds. And as we all know, maintaining tight bonds between people and their community is invaluable—It is especially important in today’s disconnected world.
The unintended consequences of these examples underscore the importance of mindful consideration and responsible choices to mitigate the far-reaching impacts of our actions. In theory, short-term rentals may seem like a great idea, offering flexibility for travelers, income opportunities for property owners, and a boost to the local economy through tourism-related spending. But these benefits come with a heavy price tag—A price tag that is paid by the community while STR owners pocket the profit.
Despite the apparent advantages reality paints a different and alarming picture without meaningful regulation. The list of grievances is extensive, and researching this topic reveals that it is literally a worldwide probem. The list includes:
Tight-knit communities torn apart by transient guests and unconnected property owners/investors
More noise and disturbances and less peace and harmony in neighborhoods
Increased crime, emergency, and nuisance calls burdening our already overburdened first responders
Difficulty in finding or the complete disappearance of affordable housing
Artificially inflates property values by investors looking to turn a profit and overpay for housing outbidding families looking for a place to live
Disruption of school districts due to fluctuating populations
Increased wear and tear on public facilities and amenities
Negative impact on the character and charm of historic neighborhoods and wilderness areas
Strain on local services, such as garbage collection, sewer services, cell phone towers and internet connectivity in rural areas
Hotels have staff to handle issues with guests, but STR owners rely on free labor, their neighbors, to track down the owners for resolutions to issues that arise
Lack of accountability and responsiveness from absentee property owners/managers
Traffic and parking nightmares
Trash and litter issues
Tax evasion by some STR owners
Irresponsible and/or ignorant guests wreaking havoc on forest and desert trails, disrespecting wildlife, being unwise about fire safety and leaving no trace concepts
Locals experience reduced quality of life
These issues surrounding short-term rentals are well-documented and acknowledged worldwide, particularly in cities and towns deemed idyllic slices of paradise. The more alluring the location, the more property owners and corporations seek to carve out a larger slice of this heavenly pie.
Make no mistake—STRs are big business, backed by formidable lobbyists pulling strings like puppeteers at a marionette show. In their gluttonous pursuit of money and new taxable income, these lobbyists and legislators remain blissfully unphased of the chaos they unleash, leaving the people disarmed and voiceless. Governor Doug Ducey’s extreme shortsightedness in signing legislation SB1350, slamming the door shut on any attempts to ban or regulate short-term rentals, has set off seismic repercussions that reverberate throughout the Grand Canyon State.
One after another, cities like Scottsdale, Paradise Valley, Lake Havasu, Sedona, Flagstaff, and Coconino County (championing unregulated gems like Munds Park) to name a few are struggling to find relief for their troubled locals, who are pleading for change.
Meeting With Sedona’s Mayor
I had the privilege of meeting with Sedona’s Mayor, Scott Jablow about Sedona’s fight to regulate STRs. Sedona has a long history of trying to balance tourism with maintaining community cohesiveness and protecting the natural beauty of their gorgeous land. Matter of fact, Sedona banned STRs in 1995, but their ability to manage their city was ripped away in 2017 with one swipe of Governor Ducey’s pen.
Today, Sedona is facing the highest STR population per capita in the State—16% of those cheeky short-term rentals are now wreaking havoc on this picture-perfect paradise. Can you even?
Scott explained that they’ve done all they can within the law, which he admits, isn’t a solution to their very real problems. They don’t have housing for their workforce, first responders or their teachers. You are not going to believe this, but some teachers who cannot find housing literally live in the forest out of their cars! Whaaaat?! I about fell out of my chair!
He said Sedona paid for lobbyist to join the fight against unregulated STRs introducing a new bill, but the House Speaker, Ben Toma, refused to even bring it to the floor. He further recounted bureaucrats visiting Arizona city and towns looking for a solution to the housing crises, and Scott said, “You caused this problem, it’s an easy fix, regulate and limit STRs!” Only to find the Home Builders Association was backing the fact-finding mission and the easiest solution, regulating STRs, wasn’t on the table.
They didn’t stop there. The Sedona’s City Council approved to PAY hosts to rent their properties long-term. They offered a range from $3,000 for one bedroom in a shared home up to $10,000 for a full three-bedroom property, only to be snubbed by STR owners and investors looking for bigger pieces of the pie.
Further, during a Town Hall meeting, Scott urged STR owners with three or more rentals to give up just one and rent it out long-term to provide housing for teachers, first responders, and the workforce. Not one STR owner was willing to sacrifice a little profit. Not one.
Mayor Scott Jablow, a spirited transplant from the bustling streets of New York and a retired police officer, is known for embracing a “never give up” attitude. He is actively building a coalition of lobbyists to work with cities and towns, fighting for real and lasting regulations. In addition to this, he serves as a beacon of hope, assuring us that we’re not alone in this battle and extending a helping hand to Munds Park to form a partnership for effective change. As we learn more about how we can collaborate with our Sedona friends, dear Mundsies, rest assured that we will keep you informed every step of the way.
Survey of Our Readers
In our last email to subscribers, we offered a chance to answer questions about their perceptions and the impacts of short-term rentals. Here is what your community had to say:
Do you live by a short-term rental (STR)?
How do you feel about the presence of short-term rentals in Munds Park?
Have you or someone you know experienced decreased satisfaction with living in Munds Park due to short-term rentals?
18% No issues.
47% Yes. Some dissatisfaction but bearable.
35% Yes, extreme dissatisfaction to the point of wanting to move or actually moved away.
In your opinion, what impact do short-term rentals have on the overall character and atmosphere of Munds Park?
19% Very positive
4% Somewhat positive
44% Somewhat negative
31% Very negative
Do you believe short-term rentals contribute to increased noise levels and disturbances in Munds Park?
53% Strongly agree
27% Somewhat agree
8% Somewhat disagree
10% Strongly disagree
To what extent are you concerned about the decline in affordable long-term housing options for families and our workforce?
38% Very concerned
34% Somewhat concerned
6% Not very concerned
7% Not concerned at all
Do you believe short-term rentals have a positive or negative impact on the local economy of Munds Park?
20% Very positive
18% Somewhat positive
15% Somewhat negative
7% Very negative
32% While short-term rentals may fill some pockets, the problems they cause in our community outweigh any financial gains.
If you believe short-term rentals have a positive impact on our local economy, would you still hold that view if your local sheriff’s office, fire department, and sanitary district reported that short-term rentals were causing increased strain on our infrastructure and first responders?
16% Yes, I still believe short-term rentals positively affect our community, regardless of the concerns raised by officials.
57% I would reconsider my stance on short-term rentals if there were increased calls on first responders and straining our infrastructure.
1% STRs are the future. Our government and taxpayers need to adjust and expand their services and tax base to accommodate STR owners.
If legislation were to allow for real regulations on short-term rentals, such as implementing a cap on the number of short-term rentals in one neighborhood block, what limit would you support?
16% No limit. I believe there should be no cap on the number of short-term rentals in a neighborhood block.
6% 3-5 short-term rentals per neighborhood block.
38% 1-2 short-term rentals per neighborhood block.
40% 0 They are a business and should not be in residential areas.
The Pinewood Property Owners Association (PPOA) has had a long-standing rule to avoid political advocacy or actions that could disrupt harmony among community members. Do you believe short-term rentals are an issue the PPOA should take a firm stand on?
53% Yes, the PPOA should take a stand on short-term rentals, even if it means potentially causing dis-harmony among community members.
25% No, the PPOA should maintain its stance on avoiding political advocacy and actions that could disrupt harmony, even if it means not addressing the issue of short-term rentals in a real way.
22% I’m not sure or don’t have an opinion on whether the PPOA should take a stand on short-term rentals.
If the Pinewood Property Owners Association (PPOA) or another organization emerged to combat the influence of the Short-Term Rental Lobbyist and rally our representatives to advocate for our homeowners and our community, would you be willing to join the cause?
24% Yes, I would be eager to join the fight and support the efforts against the short-term Rental Lobbyist.
52% I might consider joining, depending on the specific goals and strategies of the organization.
24% No, I would not be interested in participating in the fight against the short-term rental lobbyist.
The Pinewood News does not allow property managers or STR owners to advertise. Furthermore, we refrain from featuring attractions such as our trails, local camping areas, and Lake Odell to avoid drawing tourists to the Park. Our sole focus is supporting our community, local organizations, businesses that bring value, and preserving our small-town atmosphere. Considering towns and cities invest significant resources to draw tourists, do you think Pinewood News should reconsider its approach?
17% Yes, the Pinewood News should reconsider its approach and adapt to the changing dynamics of attracting tourists, which can bring economic benefits to the community.
75% No, the Pinewood News’s philosophy is relevant and supported by the community.
8% I’m unsure or have no opinion on whether the Pinewood News should update its philosophy regarding advertising and promoting attractions to draw more tourists.
The Latest Ordinance from Coconino County
The trigger for this article and survey was the newly revised Coconino County Ordinance—a source of bitter disappointment because they went back to the drawing board because there was a such an outcry for change from the community. Unfortunately, there’s been no meaningful change, rendering the ordinance as powerless as the first. However, let me be clear, it’s not because the Board of Supervisors was unwilling to provide us with thoughtful regulations. The real issue lies with the ineffective and self-interested legislators, tying the Board’s hands and blocking real regulations.
I did ask Jay Christelman, Director of Community Development with Coconino County, exactly what had changed because I couldn’t see it. His response was, “Substantively, the only significant change is that staff have the ability to issue monetary citations administratively against an STR operator for failing to obtain the necessary permit within the specified 30 days of notice. The definition section has been expanded, and the formatting has been redone.”
The Next Steps
We’ve laid bare the adverse impacts of short-term rentals. It’s evident that while STR ownership may bring some economic benefits to our community, the scales tip heavily toward the unintentional harm caused by STRs.
But before we shut the door completely, there’s an inkling that privately owned STRs might have a place, albeit a tricky one. We can’t ignore the logic behind keeping full-blown businesses away from residential areas. There’s a reason for that separation, but perhaps we can find a sensible balance and ensure proper enforcement so both can coexist harmoniously.
Unfortunately, wresting control from the clutches of the STR industry, its lobbyists, and lawmakers will be no small task. They seem more interested in keeping the playing field tilted in their favor than finding that delicate balance. Yet, here’s a glimmer of hope: communities, along with some government officials, are banding together to put an end to this madness.
If you’re ready to roll up your sleeves and fight for your community, standing alongside our neighbors from Sedona, Kachina Village, Flagstaff, and every city and town across this great state, then sign up with the Pinewood News at Hello@ThePinewoodNews.com. Be sure to mention that you are interested in the Pinewood Towne Square Bulletin. As information comes in on how we can bring about real change, we’ll send you emails, providing you with the lowdown on opportunities that matter to you.
We acknowledge that there are private short-term rental owners who share a deep connection to the Park and our community. If you are one of them, please don’t hesitate to sign up and join the conversation. We need your voices too.
How to Make a Difference
The Coconino County Board of Supervisors will vote on a short-term rental ordinance on August 8th. If approved, it will make listing short-term rentals without complying to the ordinance illegal in unincorporated neighborhoods. The draft includes regulations like maintaining permits, notifying neighbors, and prohibiting disruptive gatherings—which is better than a poke in the eye. We have to start somewhere.
The public hearing will take place at 6 p.m. on August 8th, accessible via Zoom or YouTube live stream right here. Comments must be submitted 24 hours before the meeting. You can send comments to Jess McNeely at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Join the public hearing and make your voices heard.
One last thing, check out this website, www.aznalliance.org, and dive in to learn more.
Until next time friends, stay informed, stay active and lets make positive change for the future of Munds Park.
“The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.”
— Coretta Scott King.