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Airbnb Declares End to Party!

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By Patrick Paul

As municipalities around the country evaluate changes to their respective codes in an effort to exert greater control over bad actors in the vacation rental market, Airbnb announced on November 2nd that it is banning party houses.  The move comes in response  to the shooting deaths of five people at a Halloween party hosted at an Airbnb rental house in Orinda, CA.  CEO Brian Chesky announced on Twitter that starting November 2, Airbnb would ban “party houses” and  redouble the company’s efforts to “combat unauthorized parties and get rid of abusive host and guest conduct.”

The four-bedroom rental reportedly had been rented on Airbnb by a woman who advised the owner her family members had asthma and needed to escape smoke from a wildfire  burning in Sonoma County about 60 miles north of Orinda earlier in the week.  Nevertheless, the homeowner was suspicious of a one-night rental on Halloween and reminded the renter that no parties were allowed.  Having received complaints from neighbors and witnessing some party activity via his camera doorbell, the homeowner called police who were en route to the home, but arrived after the shooting.  The Halloween party apparently was advertised on social media as an “Airbnb Mansion Party,” with an admission fee of $10 per person.

Independently owned vacation rentals are currently growing at a faster rate than hotels or motels, and in some instances are owned by out-of-state investors seeking not only a real estate return on investment, but also a return on investment associated with revenue streams generated by “pay to play” parties promoted on social media.

Like many other municipalities, Orinda, with a population of about 20,000, requires short-term rental hosts to register with the city annually and pay an occupancy tax. The maximum occupancy is 13 people.  Prior violations by the home had been resolved by the homeowner.

In Scottsdale, AZ, the City Council passed two ordinances  that took effect on October 24 intended to address “nuisance parties and unlawful gatherings.”  Under the new law, a nuisance party means there has been a substantial disturbance of the quiet enjoyment of private or public property and will allow officers to issue civil violations of  $250, $1,000, $1,500 for the first, second, and third offenses.  The Scottsdale City Council also passed an ordinance that requires short-term rental owners to provide emergency contact information, so that they can also be held more accountable in the case of any misconduct.  In Flagstaff, AZ, one community recalled two elected HOA board members as those board members owned vacation rentals in the community.

Of course, Airbnb is not the only forum through which to secure a party rental.  However, the move to ban is likely to be met with favor by municipalities like Orinda that have struggled to regulate such uses.