Labelle: STRS, CCRs, & sex offenders

Paradise Valley Independent, February 21, 2022

I applaud the Town Council adopting new short-term rental regulations, but more can be done.

I am proud to see the town include the sex offender regulation that I researched, developed and implemented 18 months ago to stop party houses, short-term rentals and commercial businesses in my own neighborhood.

I dealt with this issue first hand in my non-HOA neighborhood of Tatum Garden Estates and won. I researched the issue and figured out options and how to implement them to stop rentals.

I am sharing my personal experience in fighting STR’s in my neighborhood and hope it can help other residents to take actions in their neighborhoods.

This is why I am motivated to run for Town Council and help other residents stop STRs.

Together we can make a difference to preserve our communities against the commercial business pressures attempting to undermine our low density and unique town.

In August 2020, I was made aware of an application filed with the town by Willie “Blu” Mitchell. He wanted to operate a behavioral health home for 20 people who were either in the “prison diversion program,” aging out of foster care, and would include various other short-term occupants who were not covered by fair housing or as a protected class.

This home happened to be right next door to where my husband and I lived and raised my 17-year-old twin girls. As a mother, I became actively engaged.

My neighbors and I reached out to the town for help. We soon realized that we were on our own since the town informed us it was required to process the application.

I was told by the town, and even elected officials, that without an HOA, we could not do much to stop this type of business or STRs in our non-HOA neighborhood.

I knew this was not true, as CC&Rs are enforceable even without an HOA. My knowledge in real estate helped me help our community. I started to research and dig deeper for solutions.

Our neighbors banded together and conducted research and identified options.

We discovered Blu Mitchell was a registered level 2 sex offender in California, had not registered in Arizona, and had outstanding warrants out for his arrest for fraud. We were surprised the town did not know this information and did not conduct its own research on applicants. Lesson one: do your own homework.

We kept digging and discovered none of Mitchell’s alleged businesses were real. We found the addresses on the Arizona Corporation Commission website.

We drove by his properties and saw that they were boarded up or nonexistent.

By working together at the grassroots level, my neighbors and I were able to shut his fraudulent scheme down. But, without our hard working group of residents, Mitchell likely would have succeeded with his fraud and ruination of our neighborhood and property values.

Mitchell was arrested on Dec. 3, 2021, and faces six separate federal grand jury criminal indictments filed in federal court.

But the story does not stop there. Subsequently, this same property was purchased by another LLC and a party house STR moved in. Having successfully shut down the Blu Mitchell business, we as neighbors were now dealing with raucous parties that ran all night, garbage in the streets and intoxicated strangers roaming the neighborhood at all hours of the day and night.

Although my subdivision of Tatum Garden Estates does not have an HOA, I knew we had Covenants Conditions and Restrictions, (CC&Rs), as do most Paradise Valley neighborhoods. CC&Rs run with the land, and a copy can be obtained by a title company or County Recorder’s Office.

I studied our CC&Rs and felt we could make some amendments to them that would give us some ammunition in fighting short term rentals. I then hired and worked with attorney Chris Combs, who was able to help us craft an amendment that would respect fair housing laws and stand up in court.

The first item on our list was no sex offenders can occupy a home in our subdivision.

This issue was in the forefront of my mind because of the previous Blu Mitchell situation and because of my 17-year-old twins and the bus stop on the corner of the STR house.

We also added a clause that a property cannot be rented for less than 31 days.
I would encourage each resident to get a copy of their CC&Rs. An HOA can enforce CC&Rs, but it is not necessary to have an HOA for CC&Rs to be enforceable. The individual residents must civilly enforce them.

Our neighborhood took a “half plus one” amount of signatures to pass. I went door-to-door with a few neighbors to educate neighbors and get their signatures to get these new amendments to our CC&Rs adopted.

Once the Amendment is recorded, every property in the neighborhood is now under the new rules. The old rules are not grandfathered.

What did we do about the active STR party house? We sent a cease and desist letter to the owners of the LLC. After a few communications, they now have it rented as a long-term rental and we have no more party houses.

My parents have lived in PV, in the home I grew up in, for 45 years. Multiple STRs moved into their neighborhood. So I helped duplicate what our neighborhood did for his.

My father took the same template we used with Combs Law group and has successfully amended their CC&Rs.

Three of the STR’s in my father’s neighborhood of Bradley Acres meet the definitions of having been intentionally purchased to be party houses.

The CC&Rs were recently changed successfully and now the new owner is receiving cease and desist letters. The neighbors are banding together to legally enforce the amendments. Case Law supports their endeavor and they will succeed.

My father and I are now reaching out to AirBnB and VRBO to provide them with our CC&Rs and letting them know the advertising of rentals on their platforms are in direct opposition to our CC&Rs and that we will pursue legal action against any properties they advertise that does not clearly state our restrictions to potential renters.

The best way to stop these buyers of intentional party houses is before the purchase.

My next article will provide information and guidance on how to stop these types of party house buyers before the purchase. There is more that can be done by the town and residents that can make a difference.

This is why I am running for council, to make a positive difference, stop abusive STRs and preserve our communities and quality of life.

Editor’s Note: Christine Labelle is a 45-year Paradise Valley resident and is a candidate running for Town Council.