SLT City Council works on new vacation rental permit policies
April 9, 2015
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — The South Lake Tahoe City Council opted against a heavily opposed moratorium on Vacation Home Rentals (VHR) but voted to pursue a measure that can limit the addition of new VHRs during its meeting Tuesday.
Facing strong opposition to the moratorium from vacation-home owners and managers, members of the real estate industry, the service industry and housekeeping business managers and workers, the council decided to work towards an ordinance that would implement the special use permit process to VHR license issuing. The moratorium was proposed to last between 45 days and 22 months and would have frozen the current VHR market in place and stopped the issuance of additional VHR licenses within that time period.
Joshua Priou, director of product development for Lake Tahoe Accommodations and spokesperson for the Vacation Rental Managers said that, though the moratorium was avoided, the direction the council is taking is still significantly restrictive.
"Basically, it still sounds like a moratorium to me," he said.
The decision, Mayor Hal Cole told a packed city council chambers, was made in the interest of allowing individual neighborhoods to decide whether they want a VHR in their area or not. The process will now require neighbors within a yet-to-be determined radius of the property to be notified and given an opportunity to appeal before a VHR permit is granted.
"If we put in a special use permit process, that in effect would freeze the amount that is going in the ground. Then the neighborhoods themselves would have a lot more discretion," Mayor Hal Cole said.
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Though the moratorium was strongly opposed, a section of the community was in favor of it, and were at least partially pleased with the direction the council took.
Speaking on behalf of the Tahoe Neighborhoods Group, Peggy Bourland stated in an email that, "the city council's decision is a starting point for addressing the greater issue of nightly rental businesses being allowed in residentially zoned neighborhoods."
The recommendation to impose a moratorium was proposed as a way to pause the situation and address several issues the city has received complaints about. In all, the council heard 10 recommendations from city staff relating to how VHRs should be managed and how to address recurring problems, mainly in residential zones. Regarding those recommendations, Priou said he was pleased.
Still, the aspect most debated was the moratorium, which the opposition vehemently argued would cause a drop in tourists and would have trickle-down effects on industries such as restaurants, bars and housekeeping. Some also argued the moratorium would cost jobs. Members of multiple real estate companies stated that between 15-to-20 percent of homes drop out of the VHR market every year. Those drops, if not replenished, could reflect a relative drop in tourism, they argued. According to Priou, VHRs are rented out roughly 25 percent of all days in the year.
Prior to voting against it, Councilmember JoAnn Conner questioned the reduction of business if a moratorium was issued, stating that business would theoretically stay the same under that model. Council Member Austin Sass also suggested allowing the issuance of new licenses relative to the turnover rate to keep the number of VHRs steady.
Sass and Mayor Pro Tem Wendy David also showed concerns with letting the number of VHRs, which is currently at more than 1,500, to grow uncapped, and the effects that would have on locals. David specifically addressed families who have struggled to find homes in an affordable range. Some in the real estate industry argued that the number of VHRs should be regulated by the market. Ultimately, the council decided to let the neighborhoods regulate that number through a special permit process.
Additionally, many in the real estate industry also echoed concerns over house values dropping, stating that potential buyers may be discouraged if they know in advance that they don't have the option to use the home as a VHR. They also said business may simply go elsewhere in the Tahoe area if the restrictions were placed.
On the other side of the argument, several community members spoke out against VHRs in their neighborhoods, stating that they violate residential zoning and cause problems related to noise, trash and parking in their streets.
Those issues were largely the cause of the bigger conversation, the moratorium.
The council voted to create an ordinance with recommended changes to Vacation Home Rentals to amend the city's code and divide VHRs into two distinct categories: (a) Those operating in locations authorized for Tourist Accommodation Units (TAUs) and (b) those operating in community neighborhoods. The new applications for VHRs operating in community neighborhoods will be required to notify neighbors and be evaluated for neighborhood impacts and address concerns of neighbors, as stated by the special license process direction.
Largely, much of the problem revolved around noise. With the changes, any noise after 10 p.m. will be prohibited. The change also takes some of the discretion from enforcement officers, who in the past were able to judge whether to give a citation or not. Now, most of their discretion is limited to whether there is noise.
Other issues that were said to be directly related to noise are occupancy levels, fines and the use of hot tubs.
The council moved to limit occupancy to two people in a studio, two people in a one-bedroom unit plus another two and two people per room plus four additional people in any larger units.
The council also agreed with community suggestions to focus on punishing occupants and to give the property owner an opportunity to address issues before the authorities are involved. Additionally, the new policies will focus on punishing problem owners. VHR annual fees will increase with the number of citations for the property owner.
Regarding hot tubs, the use of jets was proposed to be limited after 10 p.m.
Other nuisances believed to be connected with the VHRs were trash and parking space. The council deferred trash issues to South Tahoe Refuse, which is in the middle of addressing the issue with a citywide proposal. Regarding the parking issue, enforcement will crack down on illegally parked vehicles, though currently the South Lake Tahoe Police Department can't address vehicles that are parked legally and on public property. Parking permit areas were mentioned, but the council did not engage in the issue.
The mounting issues also stemmed from a lack of enforcement, the VHR business sector argued, which also collectively stated that the current city codes were would work correctly the way they were if enforced.
The city responded to the limited enforcement issue by approving the recruitment of two temporary, full-time Enforcement Officers funded by available fund balance in the VHR program account and direct staff to include one permanent full-time enforcement officer in the fiscal year 2015/2016 budget, as well as upgrading a part-time code compliance auditor position to full-time.