CasinoCityTimes.com

Gurus
News
Newsletter
Author Home Author Archives Search Articles Subscribe
Stay informed with the
NEW Casino City Times newsletter!
Newsletter Signup
Stay informed with the
NEW Casino City Times newsletter!
Related Links
Recent Articles

Gaming Guru

Michelle Iracheta
 

Airbnb operates in gray areas of Las Vegas' housing laws

20 July 2015

Almost everything in the home of "Zeena" was either found, recycled, bartered for or given to her.

A tiny round coffee table she found on Hollywood Boulevard has had its surface redecorated with old newspaper clippings from fashion articles and ads. Old men's ties repurposed into women's necklaces hang on her jewelry box, and corsets she found in a second-hand store in England adorn her walls.

Zeena, who asked that her real name not be used, considers her home a museum of experiences she has collected through her time as a world traveler.

But her favorite thing to do?

"Sharing all these experiences that I've had,"쳌 she said.

That's why the 51-year-old cancer survivor turned to Airbnb, "a popular peer-to-peer rental property site" and became a host. Not only does Airbnb provide her with a platform to list her rental property, Airbnb has provided her a way to make money to supplement her tiny income while allowing her to meet people and share her experiences with them, she said.

But now, her livelihood may be threatened due to a law enacted last year that restricted short-term rentals.

Like Uber, Airbnb allows individuals to share and exchange resources. The site boasts more than more than 350,000 hosts in 190 countries around the world and more than 30 million guests use Airbnb, an Airbnb spokesperson said.

Headquartered in San Francisco, Airbnb is the brainchild of Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia and Nathan Blecharczyk and began as AirBed & Breakfast. The concept was to offer short-term living quarters in areas where alternative lodging was limited. In 2009, the site's name was shortened to Airbnb.com.

To use the website's services, hosts and renters must create a user profile. Renters can explore hosts' more than 1.2 million unique listings, which include homes, apartments, treehouses, tents, igloos, couches, boats, castles and private islands, according to the site's website.

Zeena is just one out of hundreds of Las Vegans who have found a creative way to supplement their income by providing hospitality to travelers looking to explore the city by using Airbnb.

According to a report by Gene Sperling, former White House National Economic Adviser and Director of the National Economic Council, and commissioned by Airbnb, "the majority of Airbnb hosts are working families who rent out their primary residence for an average of 66 days a year" and "make approximately $7,530 in supplementary income per year."쳌

But Zeena said she does it because she enjoys being hospitable more than anything. She said the Airbnb experience is not like a hotel, casino or resort experience, because "it makes the world a smaller place"쳌 and helps to "connect people to exchange culture."

JOINING THE SHARING BANDWAGON

In March 2012, Zeena, an undocumented immigrant from Portugal, was diagnosed with breast cancer. A few weeks later, her husband, an American whom she married in 2008, walked out of their home and never returned. With no way to make money, Zeena started working odd jobs.

Her son, who had stayed in an Airbnb in New York, explained that she too could jump on the sharing economy bandwagon, she said. Zeena joined Airbnb in August 2013. After two days on the site, she had her first confirmed reservation and was hooked, she said.

Zeena said she is worried that what she is doing falls in some sort of gray area with the city's laws.

But the city‘s laws are clear, said Business Licensing Section Manager Mary McElhone in an email.

Last year- the City Council passed a "party house ordinance"쳌 that would require homeowners who lease residential properties for less than 31 days to get a city issued $500 annual license. That includes Airbnb rentals.

The city considers these homeowners' rental properties to be businesses, McElhone said.

Airbnb does not need a business license to operate in the city because it's a hosting service, but its users need to comply with short-term rental regulations, McElhone said.

Not complying with these regulations could cause renters to face penalties, she said.

"First they receive a warning in the form of a notice of violation," McElhone said. "Our licensing officers give them an opportunity to get licensed with us. If they do not get licensed, they generally get another notice of violation with a $99 re-inspection fee."

For the third and fourth offenses, a renter could receive a fine of up to $500, McElhone said.

PARTY HOUSE CRACKDOWN

"The party houses have ruined it for everyone," said Robert "Andy"쳌 Stahl, another Las Vegan Airbnb host.

He said he hasn't needed to purchase a short-term rental license because his guests usually stay for several weeks at a time, but he acknowledges that he might one day have to, so that he can comply with city laws.

Another obstacle blocking Airbnb rentals in Las Vegas are homeowners associations around the city, said Marc Simon, an attorney at Simon Law.

"HOAs can come in if a neighbor complains about a problem," he said. "HOAs may issue a citation. Not to the tenant, but to the owner."

So why is Airbnb still able to operate in Las Vegas?

"Airbnb is not managing the properties or drawing up the contracts,"쳌 Simon said.

If Airbnb were a third-party property manager, things would be different, he said. Airbnb would then need a property management license, Simon said.

Where Las Vegas has discouraged short-term rentals with ordinances restricting the practice, other cities and states have embraced home sharing.

Philadelphia's City Council recently unanimously passed a bill to make it legal to use Airbnb, but hosts must pay an 8.5 percent hotel tax.

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo recently signed into law an $8.67 billion budget that included Airbnb rentals in its room tax.

In New York, where renting out a property for less than 29 days is illegal, Airbnb users -- hosts and guests -- brought $1.15 billion in economic activity to the city in 2014, according to a recent Airbnb study by HR&A Advisors.

REVISITING THE ORDINANCE

Council Member Lois Tarkanian said she is hoping to revisit the short-term rental ordinance after the summer and that she's working with the city's Business Licensing Department to create a new type of special-use permit that would allow short-term renters such as Zeena to be put in another category, and not considered party houses.

"She's probably no bother at all to her neighborhood,"쳌 said Tarkanian."쳌It's a shame that some people are hurt because there are people who don't care about neighborhoods and people who have lived there for many years."쳌

Tarkanian said there should be different categories when referring to rentals, including one that specifies party houses and another for renters such as Zeena, who are not a nuisance to the community.

The special-use permit could cost $500, but Tarkanian said she would be willing to negotiate a price that is reasonable for everyone or even set up a payment plan for those who might need it.

"We have to be fair to the homeowners that have paid the taxes,"쳌 Tarkanian said. "If you're living in the home at the same time as renting, I don't call that a party house."

Zeena, who recently underwent a lymphadenectomy for stage 3 melanoma, said she wants to comply with Las Vegas' laws.

She said she'd pay the $500 short-term rental annual fee if she could afford it. The part-time art instructor said Airbnb is only one way she brings in money to pay her rent, support her 13-year-old child and pay for her growing medical expenses.

Zeena said she is just trying to be resourceful by finding ways to "overcome the economic crisis in a creative way."

Airbnb lets her do that, she said.

"We don't need crime to survive," she said. "All you need is imagination, creativity and integrity to survive."