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AI Is Helping This City Get a Handle on Short-Term Rentals

La Quinta, in Southern California’s lush Coachella Valley, has turned to an AI-powered solution that mines real estate transactions and other data to zero in on the homes that are operating as unpermitted vacation rentals.

This article first appeared in Techwire’s sister publication Government Technology.

With vacation rentals playing an increasing role in California’s business environment, cities are turning to technology to get a close-in view of the short-term rental landscape. Officials in the Coachella Valley city of La Quinta have engaged Deckard Technologies to get a clear understanding of which homes in the city are on the short-term rental (STR) market.

The technology, which mines real estate data and then applies machine learning, allows the city to “see those violators out there, and to capture what they’re posting, and share with them,” said Gil Villalpando, assistant to the city manager in La Quinta. “So that when they say that they’re not, we can get a screenshot and say: ‘This is what it is. Let’s just work together to resolve this situation.’”

La Quinta, near Palm Springs, has a long reputation as a vacation getaway and also serves a thriving second-home market. In the last decade, second-home owners have often turned to platforms like Vrbo or Airbnb to list, market and book their properties. Cities facing similar situations have since stepped up their game when it comes to regulating and controlling the industry, as locals have grown weary of noisy or disruptive weekend neighbors. Cities have also looked to recoup lost hotel bed tax revenue, which unregistered STRs tend to not file.

“We want to make this fair for those that are doing this right, by getting the permits and going through the process,” said Villalpando.

The Deckard solution shows cities the locations of rentals, with a host of data attached to each property. This can include calendar information, booking activity, ownership information and more. The dashboard also displays how rental activity is changing month to month, showing seasonality.

The company entered the short-term rental space because much of public policy drafted several years ago to regulate the industry often landed into the area of either overkill — with full-scale bans on vacation rentals in many communities — or amounted to turning a blind eye, opening the door to “a free for all,” said Nick Del Pego, CEO of Deckard Technologies.

The company began mining rich troves of real estate data from sources that might include long-term rental sites like Zillow, as well as short-term rental sites like Airbnb.

“We process billions of records every single day,” said Del Pego. The company does business with cities and counties throughout the state.

It’s the kind of big-data work most cities are not equipped to perform. But they need this level of understanding to make informed policy decisions.

“Making decisions without good information leads to really bad decisions with unintended consequences,” said Del Pego.

The data allowed La Quinta to break up the city in different areas, and then manage the industry at a more aggregate level.

“They [Deckard] made areas for us that we could just click on, and it showed how many [homes] were permitted, and how many were not, in that area. It brought it to light, which was really eye-opening, and really jaw-dropping for us,” said Villalpando.
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas for Government Technology magazine.