Gunfire Erupted Outside Party at Airbnb in Belcaro Neighborhood

This house on South Madison Street was the scene of an Airbnb party on November 9.
This house on South Madison Street was the scene of an Airbnb party on November 9. Google Maps
Denver city officials are building a case to revoke the license of an Airbnb in the Belcaro neighborhood that hosted a party on November 9.

Although no injuries were reported, the Denver Police Department is investigating who fired gunshots on a road near the house while the party was going on. And the Department of Excise and Licenses, which regulates short-term rentals, believes there is enough evidence to revoke the license of the house's owner, Madeline Philley, for allegedly violating city rules. (Philley did not return a request for comment.)

The city will hold a hearing on February 19 to determine the fate of the license.

This week, Excise and Licenses sent Philley an order to show cause, a document that lays out the alleged violations of Denver's short-term rental regulation and notifies Philley about the hearing date. The order includes a description of what reportedly took place on the night of November 9:

At 10:26 p.m., Denver police officers drove over to Philley's house on South Madison Street after receiving a "report of a disturbance." Less than half an hour later, the DPD received another call with a noise complaint about the same house.

Not long after that second call, the DPD received three calls about "shots fired." When officers arrived at a location near the house, they found six 9mm shell casings. They also reported seeing a house party going on at the residence that had been the subject of the previous phone complaints. Police officers were able to speak with two women at the house "who stated they were renting the home as an Airbnb and were throwing a party," according to the order to show cause.

Police noted that the two women said they didn't know who had left the party and might have fired shots outside.

A neighbor told police that he had called 911 after seeing a group of people "getting loud in the roadway." The neighbor said the group got into two cars and "started shooting in an unknown direction." The cars then drove southbound on Madison Street, he said.

Officers also spoke with another neighbor who told them there were a lot of parties at the residence, and that "many different people [came] and [left] at all hours of the day."

The police investigation of unlawful discharge of a weapon is still ongoing, according to Doug Schepman, a DPD spokesperson.

Excise and Licenses, together with the Denver City Attorney's Office, is moving to take away Philley's license on the grounds that it violates the city's "good cause rule," which gives authority to the department to revoke a short-term rental license if the property is negatively affecting the health, safety or welfare of the nearby neighborhood.

"It’s an important tool in our effort to protect neighborhoods from problem short-term rentals, especially with reports around the country of short-term rental house parties with violence, or issues with noise, trash or other problems that impact the integrity of a community. We are continuing to take input from our community, short-term renters, local lawmakers and the short-term rental platforms so we always have rules in place that keep up with the pace of this continually evolving industry," says Eric Escudero, a spokesperson for Excise and Licenses.

The shooting outside the Belcaro Airbnb party came less than two weeks after gunfire erupted at a large party at an Airbnb in Capitol Hill. Shannon Baker, the license holder for that home, has a city hearing about the possible revocation of her license set for January 16. Her hearing will focus both on adverse impacts on the neighborhood and also a possible violation of the city requirement that a short-term rental be a license-holder's primary residence.

In early December, Airbnb announced a new policy banning open-invite parties, such as ones advertised on social media, and any large parties in apartment buildings and condos. The announcement came a little over a month after five people were shot and killed at a huge party at an Airbnb in a suburb of Berkeley, California.

As part of its effort to crack down on party Airbnbs and other problematic short-term rentals, Excise and Licenses has been sending out affidavits for short-term rental operators to sign affirming that their property is also their primary residence. According to Excise and Licenses, hundreds of operators have either withdrawn their applications or given up their licenses since affidavits were first sent out in March 2019. And in summer 2019, four short-term rental operators were charged with lying on their affidavits.

Looks like the party may be over.
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.