Changes to South Lake Tahoe vacation home rental rules finalized
On Tuesday, Nov. 21, the South Lake Tahoe City Council approved the second and final reading of amendments to the vacation home rental code, including a 1,400 cap on permits allowed in residential areas.
After numerous public meetings, City Council amended the ordinance to include a bear box requirement, ranging from 2- to 4-can sizes, based on the square footage of the home; increased fines from $250 to $1,000 without a warning; and a three-strike policy within two years, which results in a permit revocation. (These rules do not apply to VHRs within the tourist core.)
Additionally, council called for an increase in annual permitting fees by $300 to allow for the hire of three additional VHR community service officers, bringing the allowable number to five. Currently there is only one officer after a second hire fell through.
Council opted to make a decision later on whether VHR homeowners must comply with VHR rules — like occupancy — when they are not renting out the property. A separate ordinance will be written in the future to address short-term room renting in a home.
The revised ordinance has received mixed reviews from those in the VHR industry and residents who complain of trash, noise and parking issues stemming from VHRs.
Peggy Bourland, a member of Tahoe Neighborhoods Group, said her organization supported the original proposal brought in front of City Council, which included a cap and a 250-foot distance requirement between VHRs in residential areas.
“The Tahoe Neighborhoods Group supported that provision as a means to (over time) relieve the clustering and gradually reduce the overall number of vacation rentals,” said Bourland.
“Since that proposal was introduced, the idea of a distance separation was rejected by one of the subcommittee members that introduced the idea [Mayor Pro Tem Wendy David] along with [councilmembers Jason] Collin and [Brooke] Laine. The TNG was willing to work with the city on what we believed to be a reasonable compromise. In the end, the watered down revised ordinance provides no relief to the clustering problem nor a method to gradually reduce the overall number.”
Over the course of discussion spanning several meetings, council ultimately did away with the distance requirement and backpedaled on other proposed changes, such as reducing the occupancy level, citing a desire to make incremental changes to see what works. Mayor Austin Sass did not agree with these decisions, and was the sole “nay” vote at both the first and second reading of the revised ordinance.
Bourland said that a focus on enforcement is a “one dimensional approach to a complex issue.” She noted that without the support of the majority of council, it is up to the voters to decide. A notice of intent to circulate a petition was filed with the city at the end of October for the purpose of putting a VHR ban in residential areas to a vote. However, at this time, no legal notice has been filed in the newspaper — a required next step in the process.
Josh Priou, director of product development at VHR management company Lake Tahoe Accommodations, said that although he is pleased the distance requirement didn’t make it into the ordinance — “it would have been devastating” — he does not see the point of the cap.
“If there are actually issues where people live next door to a vacation rental and are having problems, how is this cap going to help them at all?” said Priou, adding that he’s “fairly OK” with the remaining enforcement measures in the new ordinance.
“I don’t mind them increasing the fines. One of the things our industry has argued for a long, long time is that they need to put teeth into this ordinance to make sure that if guests are behaving badly, that they get the appropriate punishment,” said Priou. “If a guest comes out to party, and they get a $1,000 fine, they are not going to come back to Tahoe again with that same plan in mind, and that’s what we need. What bothers me now is that the homeowner will also get a $1,000 fine.”
There should be some leeway with the homeowner if they can prove they’ve made “best efforts” to educate the renter on the rules, he said.
Priou also expressed some skepticism on the ability of the city to hire the additional three VHR-specific community service officers.
“Since 2008 there was supposed to be a community service officer in place. There was for a little while, but by 2012 there wasn’t one leading up all the way to the changes in 2015,” explained Priou. “It was required by the ordinance that the city of South Lake Tahoe have a vacation rental community service officer. As far as I know to this day there is still not a number two put in place. Now they are asking to have three more.”
The changes to the VHR ordinance will go into effect on Dec. 21.