Sedona vacation rentals fight for shorter stays

Flagstaff, AZ – Helen Knoll has lived in Sedona for five years. She and her husband live in a spacious home on Airport Mesa with great views of the surrounding red rocks. They like to organize neighborhood garage sales, holiday carol singing. They're members of their neighborhood association and neighborhood watch program. Lately though, they haven't felt too neighborly.

KNOLL: Frankly a mini hotel next door is not compatible with a single family residential area or any residential area. And they're unregulated, unsupervised and untaxed and all of that is not acceptable to us.

Knoll says two of the houses on their once quiet street have turned into party pads seven days a week.

KNOLL: We've actually had some really nice people renting next door but they are here in party mode. The houses being rented out are quite large. They're used for family reunions, wedding parties. They can pack in 12 to15 people at once. Every single night they're here there's something going on.

Knoll says that means dealing with cars up and down the street that sometimes block their driveway. But people who own vacation rentals in Sedona say they couldn't afford to live there any other way.

KNOLL: It's all fine to say you cannot afford to own a home in Sedona without breaking the law well I don't want to make an exaggerated comparison but I might say I can't afford a Mercedes Benz unless I deal drugs.

Paul Kanter and his wife Sue Meyer say the difference is they're not hurting anyone. They live in Seattle half time and Sedona the other half. When they're not in Sedona they rent out two homes here.

MEYER: Well come on in

Sue gives a tour of their three bedroom three bath home, which also has postcard perfect views.

MEYER: And the house is designed so beautifully to capture the views from each room. It's just such a neat feeling to be in here.

Meyer says the new ordinance discriminates.

MEYER: You can live here but it has to be you that lives here. This is a nice neighborhood.' What does that mean? It seems this issue has pitted neighbor against neighbor and friend against friend. I lose sleep over this stuff. One neighbor will report me to the city and the next will say to me I'm going to have an overflow of company can I have them in there that week.

She and Paul say they maintain their two homes impeccably. They also limit the number of cars their renters can park at the house. But they did buy their homes knowing there was a zoning code in place stating they could not rent for fewer than 30 days.

MEYER: We were basically told that it wasn't enforced unless there was a contact from a neighbor. We weren't the only people told that.
KANTER: So it's kind of like it's been a tacit approval. It's very difficult to enforce and we generally don't take any action until there's a complaint and will send you a letter. More than one person has been told that directly.

Kanter and Meyer only rent their homes on a monthly basis now. But they say it's been difficult to keep them occupied.

If passed, the new ordinance would make violations easier to prove. It would ban the advertisement of short-term rentals - including Internet ads. Violating the short-term ban is a misdemeanor and can carry a maximum fine of 25-hundred dollars and up to six months in jail. Meyer says the ordinance is not only unfair, it's unconstitutional.

Attorney Rick Rumrell represents Sedona residents who want to rent their homes on a short-term basis.

RUMRELL: It's become an emotional issue rather than a realistic issue. And unfortunately in England where all of these property rights issues began. Property rights became part of our vested constitutional rights. You cannot take property in state and federal constitutions without due process. It is really one of the inherent rights of people in America.

Rumrell has been fighting similar cases throughout Florida. Santa Fe, New Mexico; Big Bear, California; and Maui, Hawaii are also dealing with the issue.

Rumrell has cautioned Sedona against pursuing the enforcement ordinance.

But Sedona's city attorney Mike Goimarac isn't too concerned. He says this is still a new area of the law and there's no precedence in Arizona.

GOIMARAC: I think we all love Sedona. I'll admit it's probably financially attractive to be able to rent your home out for thousands of dollars a week and then when you retire you say you're going to live here. But if everyone did that our residential neighborhoods would not be residential neighborhoods any longer.

But he says the council plans to address the potential legal issues before making any major decisions.

Sue Meyer says it all comes down to accepting change.

MEYER: People want to come here. Sedona used to be this little teeny tiny town that nobody knew about and so that's why some folks moved here. But it's not going to be that way anymore. It's been found so let's make the best of it.

But many full-time residents here say they would rather live next to a hotel than a vacation rental home. At least then they'd know the property manager would be held accountable.

For Arizona Public Radio I'm Laurel Morales in Sedona.