Workshop addresses proposed hotel/motel ordinance | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Workshop addresses proposed hotel/motel ordinance

Jack Barnwell
jbarnwell@tahoedailytribune.com

Wednesday's workshop on a proposed South Lake Tahoe city ordinance to regulate long-term stay hotels/motels boiled down into two primary concerns.

City officials want to shore up the physical building and address health and safety concerns. Owners and advocates said they're concerned about costs and the tenants for which their hotels are the only affordable housing available.

More than 30 people attended the workshop at the Senior Center, half of them property owners, to listen to Development Services Director Shawna Brekke-Read highlight the Single Residency Occupancy (SRO) ordinance.

Long-term stay motels are the only unregulated residential market in South Lake Tahoe. Multi-residential dwellings fall under a city inspection ordinance and short-term hotels/motels are governed by the city's transient occupancy tax (TOT) laws.

"We want to even the playing field," Brekke-Read said.

The proposed ordinance, expected to go before the council in June, would regulate approximately 1,250 of the city's 5,000 available hotel rooms.

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Brekke-Read said the new regulations will require owners to file for SRO license and building permit for any potential upgrades under the ordinance. Kitchen facilities, occupancy limits, electrical and sewage utilities, and vehicle parking would be regulated.

"Many of these units are in poor condition and aren't built for long term occupancy," Brekke-Read said.

The ordinance, she said, would improve health and safety conditions for residences and upgrade aging infrastructure.

She said a council subcommittee looked at similar ordinances from other cities to help shape its own ordinance. It was also modeled under its own multi-family dwelling ordinance, which regulates apartments and duplexes.

Should the ordinance pass, property owners have 60 days to secure SRO and building permits and 12 months to complete the necessary modifications. Non-compliance results in anything from a revoked business license and fines to closure.

Units would still be considered tourism accommodation units under the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA).

Property owners and advocates disagreed, labeling the ordinance as impossible and unfair to the residents they serve.

Many asked if the city had plans to help potential displaced residents while the modifications occurred, while others balked at the requirements such as a need for a kitchen in units.

Property owner Robert Haider called the demands to comply with upgrades and conditions included in the ordinance.

Additionally, if all hotel owners began the renovation at the same time, it could create supply-and-demand issues, including the availability of contractors. If city staff refined the ordinance, it could be feasible.

"Right now there is so much in here that it could cost owners $1 or $2 million per property to make this happen," Haider said.

He asked if accommodations had the option of switching short-term stay hotels, pay the required bed taxes and be done with it.

Brekke-Read said hotels had that option, though TOT-governed hotels would have to comply with fire inspection checks.

Some suggested that the kitchen component could comprise of a microwave and refrigerator instead of a full-blown kitchen with stove and bells and whistles.

Others questioned outreach efforts and how many of the hotel residents had been contacted.

Brekke-Read said a city staff member had gone out to many of the properties and handed out flyers.

Former council member Ted Long noted the kitchen requirement for many SRO rooms could take up the requisite minimum 120-square-foot living space required under the ordinance. A second room would be needed unless properties opted for a community, and some would have to close down at least one or two units to comply.

The larger conservation, Long said, was something both the city and property owners want: safe, affordable housing.

"This would be a perfect area to begin a conversation about the city subsidizing these units," Long said. "We have a responsibility to provide affordable housing."

Current development standards implemented at the TRPA level put halt on that. Long-term hotel owners fill that gap in the housing market, he argued.

"They're filling a need for those people who can't afford a $800 or $900 apartment and they are willing to work with people," Long said.

Long added it boils down to TOT revenue.

"It seems as long as you're willing to pay TOT then everything is fine," Long said. "But if you're not paying TOT, then you've got to meet these rules and it sounds like the city is more interested in something else."

Instead of an overreaching ordinance, he said the city should just extend inspection regulations to every building in the city.

Brekke-Read said it wouldn't address the SRO problem.

Lloyd Aronoff, a former property owner and current ReMax realtor, said hotels could skirt around it by just having tenants move every 20 or so days if they switch back to a short-term accommodation. While the ordinance addresses evictions, Aronoff said such people would be considered "guests" and not tenants.

Aronoff said that people who reside in long-stay hotels can't afford utilities or the down payments necessary for an apartment, or can't pass a credit check.

"You're going to have 2,000 or 3,000 people leave or try and start a fire near Heavenly," he said. "You've really got a can of worms that you need to talk about, because they can't really afford to go anywhere else."Jason Collin, Barton Health's home health director, said the biggest question asked was what's going on in these hotels. W

"These SROs serve a very important piece of our community," Collin said. That includes housing those who might otherwise be institutionalized for mental health concerns.

Because of that Barton needs to address that concern. An ordinance would help enforce conditions that some people might not complain about for fear of eviction, conditions Barton staff have seen in the past."We have to come together as a group and address these issues, but the realization has to come that certain things have to be done and we have to provide certain amenities," Collin said.

Mayor Hal Cole, who sits on the SRO subcommittee, said a lot of the concerns expressed want to be addressed and the ordinance will be refined.

"But I submit to you that this has been unregulated for many years and there are problems," Cole said. "To think we should not regulate them I can't accept it."

He realized there will be some give-and-take regarding some of the proposed ordinance requirements.

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