Vacation home rentals cap a possibility in South Lake Tahoe
July 19, 2017
Following the release of the socioeconomic study on vacation home rentals (VHRs), changes could be made to the city code governing the industry — including a cap on the number allowed in South Lake Tahoe.
On Tuesday, July 11, City Council hosted a public workshop to hear ideas on how to address issues with VHRs, including noise, improper trash disposal, illegal parking, and spotty enforcement of the current rules. Some residents also blame VHRs for the degradation of neighborhoods and a lack of long-term rentals for full-time residents.
The study commissioned by the city pointed to a need to strike a balance with VHRs. Unfettered growth would continue to drive up the cost of housing in the city and not address community complaints, while a phasing out of VHR permits or prohibiting their operation would have "significant negative economic impacts," according to the report.
Kevin Fabino, South Lake Tahoe director of development services, the department responsible for VHR permitting, suggested that a good first step would be establishing a "brighter line" when it comes to whether a VHR permit is accepted or not. This could be accomplished by establishing a "prescribed distance" between VHRs.
"We think it would provide certainty to new applicants as well as existing residents," Fabino said. "It would move the application process from a discretionary act to a ministerial act."
Currently, any homeowner who seeks a VHR permit for a property in a zoned residential area — versus the tourist core — goes through a process that determines whether or not the VHR will affect the "character of the neighborhood." Additionally, any neighbor within 300 feet of the proposed VHR can object to the permit and kick off a hearing process.
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Further, said Fabino, the distance would inherently address the issue of VHR "saturation" in neighborhoods.
Major Austin Sass spoke up in support of a cap on the number of VHRs allowed in residential areas, but not one for the tourist core.
"There needs to be a cap because I'm not prepared to go from 1,800 VHRs to 3,500 VHRs," Sass said.
The number of VHR units in the city jumped from 1,213 in 2011 to 1,861 in 2016 — an increase of 53 percent.
Several residents voiced their support of a cap, some even calling for a complete ban in residential zones.
"I bought in an R1 zone for a reason. I knew I didn't want to buy in the Keys because of all the vacation home rentals," said Delana Persel, who has a home in the Tahoe Island area.
Councilmember Jason Collin pointed out, however, that a cap on VHRs — or even a reduction — does not necessarily mean that more houses will be available for long-term rental.
"Most of the homes that are VHRs would not flip over into long-term housing, so I think we have to keep that in mind," Collin said. "If we put a moratorium or a cap on VHRs, that doesn't mean there is going to be an increase in housing for all the people that can't find housing right now in our town."
In addition to curtailing the growth of VHRs in South Lake Tahoe, City Council is exploring ways to address nuisance issues associated with VHRs.
Whether workshop attendees were for or against VHRs, both sides agreed that the key to managing VHRs is consistent enforcement.
South Lake Tahoe Police Chief Brian Uhler debuted a new online portal where every VHR incident is listed (viewable at http://www.cityofslt.us/vhrenforce). He also suggested that the number of citations a VHR receives before losing its permit be reduced from four to two or three within a 12-month period.
Sass said he thought that fines for offending VHR renters should be doubled, and weekend enforcement ramped up. He also brought up the idea of requiring VHR owners or management companies to send out rules to the guests prior to arrival. The renter would then have to sign and acknowledge that they had read the rules.
Tahoe Keys resident Peter Raizen, who manages a VHR around the corner from his house, said he believes that many of the issues with VHRs could be helped if the occupancy level was lowered and there was "mandatory effective screening" of renters over the phone.
"The occupancy level is too high. Here it is two [people] per bedroom plus four. I looked around and everywhere else was two per bedroom plus one," Raizen said.
Having a mandatory local contact for VHRs was another idea brought up by several residents as a way to better manage renters.
VHR owner Marilyn McGraw said she has had the most success when she requires a refundable cash deposit.
"It's amazing how great people will be when you have their cash in your hands," McGraw said.
After three hours of discussion, the City Council made the decision to reconvene the VHR subcommittee and other stakeholders for 60 to 90 days. During that time, they would come up with amendments to the code to address the issues discussed at the workshop.
Any proposed amendments would need to be voted in by council — minus councilmember Tom Davis, who is recused from these discussions because he is a part owner of Tahoe Keys Resort.
The city's VHR ordinance was last amended in May 2016. City Council voted to increase fees for VHRs to pay for enforcement and administration, require paved parking spots, mandate hot tubs be turned off by 10 p.m., and require a safety inspection of every vacation home rental. The city also set stricter occupancy limits, and gave residents within 300 feet notice of potential VHRs the option to object.
The city eventually banned new VHRs in multi-family properties, but allowed existing units to continue operating.