South Lake Tahoe tackles vacation home rental ordinance
It’s back to the drawing board for the city of South Lake Tahoe’s vacation home rental ordinance.
South Lake Tahoe City Council did not vote earlier this month to approve a slew of proposed amendments to its code governing vacation home rentals, including a cap on the number of permits allowed and a distance requirement between new VHRs. Instead, the city council elected to rework aspects of the proposed ordinance and come back in another month.
During a Sept. 5 meeting, director of development services Kevin Fabino presented the amendments drafted by the VHR sub-committee, which is comprised of city staff, Mayor Austin Sass and Mayor Pro-Tem Wendy David with consultation from stakeholders on both sides of the issue.
Realtors, VHR owners and concerned residents packed city council chambers for the VHR portion of the meeting, which lasted seven hours with several hours of public comment.
The proposed regulations suggested a limit of VHR permits allowed within the residential areas of the city, to be determined by city council, and a 250-foot distance requirement between new VHRs. Existing VHRs that don’t meet the distance requirement would be allowed to continue operating as long at their permits did not expire.
This would create a “bright line” for determining if a homeowner is awarded a VHR permit, said Fabino, and would eliminate the discretionary process of approval. These restrictions would not apply to VHRs in the tourist core, and Home Owners Associations could create their own rules.
“You’re incentivizing them into the tourist core,” City Manager Nancy Kerry said.
The number of VHR units in the city jumped to 1,861 in 2016 from 1,213 in 2011 — an increase of 53 percent. Of that number, 1,350 are located in residential areas outside of the tourist core.
Ultimately, council members Jason Collin and Brooke Laine said they did not feel there was enough data to move forward with this portion of the ordinance.
“We have to separate our housing issue and VHR issue,” said Collin, noting that decreasing VHRs would not necessarily mean they would hit the market as long-term rentals. He cautioned that a large reduction in VHRs could have a negative impact on those directly and indirectly employed by the industry.
“I’m worried about adding layers to our code when we haven’t even determined what works in it,” noted Laine. “I do believe that the enforcement is lacking. One [community service officer] working for four days a week is not robust to me.”
A second community service officer has been hired and is days away from starting, according to South Lake Tahoe Police Chief Brian Uhler. This would bring VHR patrolling up to seven days a week.
Council directed city staff to come back with data to show just how much permit caps and distance requirements would reduce the number of VHRs, which generated over $2.8 million in TOT (transient occupancy tax) for the city last year. A socioeconomic study commissioned by the city and released in June did not make specific suggestions on cap numbers or distance requirements.
Council members did agree on several proposed amendments to the ordinance, including the requirement that all new VHRs must have a bear box and existing VHRs have until July 31, 2019 to meet this requirement. Additionally, any code violation would result in a fine of $1,000 to the owner or guest, up from a base fine of $250. A permit would be revoked if there were three citations within two years.
Council members settled on removing several parts of the proposed ordinance, including the requirement for an owner or manager to visit the VHR in person within 18 hours of check-in. It was unclear if council would require a person or property manager within a 30-mile radius, available 24-hours a day, to address issues with the VHR, as proposed in the amendments.
Further, the city council opted to eliminate the portion of the ordinance that said a house must measure at least 1,100 square feet in order to be considered for a new permit.
After multiple public comments on occupancy, the city council decided to move forward with reducing the number of people allowed in VHRs from two per bedroom plus four to just two per bedroom.
The city council asked for further input from Uhler on whether VHR rules, such as no large-scale special events and occupancy limits, would apply when owners are occupying the property.
The city council ultimately decided to revisit the issue at its October meeting with the hope of obtaining more information before that time.
“If we don’t make a decision in a month, and if it ever got to the ballot, this would be the ugliest battle this town has ever seen. We have to make a decision,” Sass said.