Regulating Short-Term Rentals: New Sex Offender Background Check Requirements Appear
Since the creation and rise of services such as AirBNB, the phrase "short-term rental (STRs)" has expanded from the basics, such as timeshares, to entire homes in regular residential communities. Some neighborhoods frequently have travelers and transient individuals arriving for a few days or weeks at a time before departing, with a replacement arriving the same day. The result has had a major impact on housing prices and availability and an increasing risk for abuse, human trafficking, and other crimes. Some now wonder if it's time to require a sex offender background check for bookings.
Such threats are not new — hotels, especially motels, can be a magnet for bad actors looking for temporary space to commit crimes. Consider a recent example out of Atlanta when an innocuous traffic stop turned into a sprawling sex trafficking investigation. A convicted and registered sex offender was found to have spent more than three months trafficking a 15-year-old girl to various men, offering sex for money out of a motel where he worked. Police said the alleged perpetrator had also used multiple area hotels as a base for the illegal activity.
An investigation remains ongoing. Can a sex offender pass a background check and land in a position to exploit minors so easily? Motel employees claimed that the man would have been denied employment based on his sex offender status but was unclear if any background check had actually been conducted.
In Arizona, many communities have come together to take steps to ensure that such heinous crimes cannot happen in short-term rentals throughout the state. The latest effort comes from Sedona, a popular tourist destination. As of February 2023, all short-term rental owners in the area must now conduct limited background checks for their hotel guests. Specifically, Sedona (and many other communities in Arizona) requires that all guests be checked against sex offender registries.
Background checks for employees aren't unusual, but background checks for guests are relatively new. Sedona specifically states that landlords are fully liable for completing this requirement. They may substitute the official check of a booking platform, such as AirBNB, but they must also conduct their check if a platform does not. No registered sex offenders will have the right to rent or reside in a short-term rental — and if a landlord allows one to do so, they could face serious civil penalties.
For landlords, this new requirement may seem burdensome. Some in Sedona even believe the regulations are not for safety, but to make it harder to operate STRs. However, as we've seen, there are real risks associated with STRs concerning human trafficking. As more cities across the country awaken to the risks, regulations requiring sex offender checks could proliferate rapidly.
STR operators must be aware of the level of risk they face from negligence in this area. Failing to do due diligence could have real-world consequences, not just for the business but also for real people. Failing to conduct a sex offender background check could mean the loss of your reputation, the loss of business, and even fines or allegations of negligence. Now is the time to begin formulating a strategy for compliance and the continued safe operation of your STRs.
About Michael Klazema The author
Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based backgroundchecks.com with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments