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Las Vegas homeowner gets $180K penalty for unlicensed short-term rental

Updated January 24, 2024 - 7:02 pm

The city of Las Vegas imposed a $180,000 penalty on a homeowner after officials said a home was rented out through Airbnb without a city-mandated license.

During a hearing in front of the City Council to appeal the civil penalty, homeowner Xin Tao alleged that he was defrauded by a tenant who had rented the house without his permission.

Unpersuaded, lawmakers voted 7-0 to uphold the penalty.

“The owner must stand up and take care of what’s done with their own properties,” Mayor Carolyn Goodman said.

Records show the city slapped a lien on the property in late 2023 for the amount owed.

Tao and a co-owner, Yaoqun Ding, purchased the home located near Oakey Boulevard and Rancho Drive in 2021.

Tao initially listed the property for short-term rental himself, but he “immediately stopped” after a complaint led to the city opened an investigation two months after the purchase, said attorney Andrew Bao, who represented Tao at the Jan. 17 hearing.

Bao said a tenant of Tao’s — who had signed a two-year lease — continued the practice without the homeowners’ consent.

The city likens a short-term rental to a vacation rental that is leased for fewer than 30 consecutive days.

“There are expectations that property owners and tenants will comply with all ordinances pertaining to noise, parking, business licenses and number of occupants allowed at the residence,” according to the city of Las Vegas, which bars holding weddings, parties and other “special events” at them.

The cities of Henderson and North Las Vegas also license and regulate short-term rentals, while Clark County is in the process of allowing them.

After Tao took down the listing, the city’s code enforcement department continued monitoring the home for a year, Las Vegas code enforcement manager Eric McCoy said.

“Oftentimes, people wait for us to go away, and then they go back to the activity after three or four months,” McCoy said.

The city continued receiving complaints from the neighborhood that short-term rentals were occurring, and inspectors confirmed the allegations after a February 2022 inspection in which they spoke to a renter.

Tao was then fined $2,000 plus an inspection fee, McCoy said.

The city subpoenaed Airbnb for records and found that rental activity going back to the initial violation, including nearly 70 reviews, McCoy said.

A listing, for example, showed an nonexistent business license number, said McCoy, adding that email records showed that the renter was instructing tenants to pick up the keys at an address at the adjacent street.

In total, the city determined that the home had been rented for 360 days, McCoy said. The overall penalty of $180,000 accounts for a $500 fee per day, he added.

If the city had imposed fees for the amount of days the property was listed as a short-term rental, Tao would’ve been on the hook for about $350,000, McCoy said.

‘He is brought into this mess’

Tao’s attorney contested the number of days the house was rented, noting that it had been listed as a different address.

Bao said Tao had tried stopping his tenant from renting the house and had been in constant touch with code enforcement.

When confronting his tenant, Tao would hear that “nothing is going on, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Bao said.

Tao tried evicting him and sought legal recourse while the penalties continued to add up without notification, Bao said.

“He is brought into this mess, by perhaps an individual who at best defrauded him,” Bao said. “He’s being subjected to the maximum fine allowed by law.”

Homeowner ultimately responsible, city says

Deputy City Attorney Rebecca Wolfson said Tao was responsible for what was going on at his property.

“If he has a dispute with his renter, that is something that can be handled in a private manner between him and the renter,” she said.

McCoy echoed the same message: “It’s unfortunate that the fee amount is so high, but this gentleman was aware that something was going on in his property.”

Bao did not respond to a message seeking comment Tuesday.

The same day, the City Council was scheduled to hear a similar appeal from the owner of a west valley home that had been penalized with $87,000 in daily civil penalties for the same violation, and also had a lien imposed on it. The meeting was pushed back to February.

Contact Ricardo Torres-Cortez at rtorres@reviewjournal.com.

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