PHOENIX — Valley neighbors who were once fighting an Airbnb rental property are now fighting a lawsuit.
Attorneys say the neighbor's protests led the investor who was purchasing the property to back out of the deal.
This lawsuit comes at a time when some Arizona lawmakers have been lobbying for more regulations in the short term rental industry. These are homes you will see advertised on sites like Airbnb.com and VRBO.com.
While most short term renters are good neighbors, the number one complaint against them comes from residents all over Arizona who say these rentals have ruined the quality of life in their communities. From loud parties to alcohol bottles littered all over the front lawn, to noise, and cars parked in front of their driveways. Some neighbors of the North Encanto community in Phoenix echoed similar concerns when they learned a home on their block was going to be sold to a California based investor who planned to turn into a short term rental that would be advertised on Airbnb.
"I was very concerned about the noise it was going to make, the parking problems, having unknown people every day," said Regina Graybill, one of the residents named in the complaint.
In other neighborhoods, ABC15 has heard complaints from residents who have said people were renting out their homes for events, such as weddings and bachelor parties.
"We just didn't want a full-time Airbnb house on our block," said Amanda Bass, whose husband was also named in the complaint.
What exactly did the residents do to protest the short term rental?
"We made yard signs and expressed our concerns about an issue of personal as well as public concern to us as neighborhood residents. That is absolutely protected under the first amendment," said Bass.
ABC15 asked the residents where they had posted their signs. All of them stated the signs were posted on their front lawns.
The signs read: "No Airbnb house at 1717", "Our peace is not for sale", "Mr. Investor, please talk with us", and "Angry neighbors: Not good for business."
Patrick MacQueen, a Valley real estate attorney, is suing the residents on behalf of the homeowner who had hoped to sell her property to the California investor.
In a previous letter to the residents, MacQueen had asked residents to remove their signs.
MacQueen said while it was not illegal to post signs on your own property, the real estate agent who represented the California buyer had complained that the neighbors had made "aggressive threats toward them," and that was the reason the investor decided to back out of the deal. MacQueen said the agent stated that the neighbors had approached them just as they were about to start a home inspection on the property.
"In our view, it got out of hand when inspectors couldn't inspect the property for the buyer," said MacQueen.
Neighbors disputed that statement, saying the real estate agent had invited them on to the property where neighbors appealed to them not to use the home as an Airbnb. There had been no threats. ABC15 asked MacQueen what specific "aggressive threats" were made in this case.
"As to the specific threats, I don't know what those were, but I can tell you they felt threatened enough to back out of this contract and the deal," said MacQueen. "What is illegal is interfering with a valid contract."
The homeowner did eventually sell the property to another buyer, but the complaint stated the offer they got was about $42,000 less than the first offer from the California investor. The lawsuit seeks damages and attorney fees.
"What is this? Communist China? Where you can't say what you think?" questioned Regina Graybill.
"The message this sends is that you need to be quiet; otherwise the force of the law will be martial against you," added Bass.
Neighbors stated they were going to fight the lawsuit. ABC15 will stay on top of this story and let you know how this plays out in the courts.