I-Team: La Quinta residents sound off on Short-term vacation rentals

The City of La Quinta continues to work on addressing a rising number of residential complaints over short-term vacation rental properties as it tries to hold onto a big source of tax revenue those same properties generate.

“It can’t just be a money grab,” said a resident Christopher Mikulenka at a recent city council meeting. “That’s what it really is right now. That’s what we feel like. We’re losing our neighborhood right now.”

Complaints from Mikulenka and other residents soared this summer as out-of-towners fled to the desert for safe pandemic vacation getaways. STVR properties provide one opportunity to recreate safely.

Loud music and other noise from STVR all-day pool parties have negatively impacted neighbors and accompanied a rise in city citations for noise violations. A number of residents compared their La Quinta neighborhood to living on a fraternity row during a recent city council meeting. They cite noise problems with STVR guests.

“Their screams, chants, and drinking games can be heard up and down the street and on the golf course,” said another resident, Kathy Hartung.

They also say there are simply too many short term vacation rentals on their street which are negatively impacting their otherwise quiet neighborhood and quality of life. They say the city isn’t doing enough to address their concerns.

“It’s nothing against these guests,” said Kevin Meredith, a city Co Compliance Supervisor at a city council study session in November. “When you go knock on the door at midnight they’re as nice as can be. But they’re on vacation and they’re not thinking about the neighbors.”

The city’s code department has issued 175 citations issued since July 15 and suspended 43 STVR permits.

“They’re in a residential neighborhood, and they have to behave like they’re in a residential neighborhood, not a frat row,” said Mary Caldwell, an STVR Ad-hoc Committee representative said at a recent city council meeting.

Two-thirds of the city’s STVR properties are owned by people and investors who live outside the Coachella Valley. The transient occupancy tax they help generate is the city’s third-largest source of tax revenue.

The properties were producing a growing number of complaints even before the pandemic, but have since created new enforcement issues.

“They’re here to have their party, their get-together, at the location,” said Meredith. “And it does create a unique situation we’re dealing with now we didn’t deal with in previous years.”

The city also mailed 452 cease and desist letters to property owners earlier this month identified as operating unlicensed STVR units.

The city says a third of its STVR properties have racked up at least one complaint often from neighbors for noise, parking, and trash.

I-team investigator Jeff Stahl reports on what neighbors have been dealing with and the city’s response.

See his full report, ‘STR Showdown’ Tuesday at 6 p.m. on News Channel 3.