South Lake Tahoe ramps up enforcement of vacation home rentals | TahoeDailyTribune.com

South Lake Tahoe ramps up enforcement of vacation home rentals

Just in time for a busy winter tourism season, the City of South Lake Tahoe is taking stock of — and cracking down on — vacation home rentals.

At the Dec. 13 council meeting, development services director Kevin Fabino and code compliance auditor Maureen Stuhlman gave a progress report on the state of vacation home rental (VHR) management and enforcement.

Fabino started with a breakdown of the number of existing VHR permits from the last two years. In January 2015, there were 1,549; in October 2015, 1,906; in January 2016, 1,874; and in July 2016, 1,858.

"One of the things that we've tried to do was really engage in more articulate conversation and so what that really means is how does that 1,858 break down into what are real numbers today," said Fabino.

Subtract 133 expired permits, plus an estimated 150 that are expected to expire soon, and the number of VHRs as of December 2016 looks to be around 1,575.

Fabino — who started working for the city in May — admitted that the system for data gathering in the past was not as effective as it should have been, and in a follow up call from the Tribune, he was not able to provide statistics on VHR permits from years prior to 2015.

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"One of the big efforts that we've engaged in over the last four months or so is addressing the issue of expired permits," Fabino explained to council.

"At one point there were 600-700 of them all in a variety of stages of delinquencies."

From Nov. 1, 2015 to Nov. 29, 2016, Stuhlman — who handles the enforcement side of VHRs — said they have cited 68 VHRs for renting without a permit. They have initiated 36 audits on these VHRs to determine how much back payment of Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) is required. Twenty-four of those have been completed.

In a little over a year, the code enforcement team has tallied 793 citations, warnings and advisories to VHRs, reported Stuhlman. They have collected $32,227 from citation fines, and $58,592 in back payment of TOT from VHRs found to not be paying the required tax. The total TOT collected from VHRs totals $2,868,148.

Claire Cudahy / Tahoe Daily Tribune

A focus on enforcement has been key in getting a handle on the VHR situation, noted Stuhlman, and technology has been essential in being more efficient in that effort.

For instance, a new dispatch system sends a notification to the iPhone of the VHR community service officer (CSO) on duty when a disturbance is called in.

This, coupled with the addition of a second CSO and contracted security firm High Sierra Patrol, is allowing for round-the-clock enforcement seven days a week.

High Sierra Patrol began patrolling on Dec. 16.

"We are going to be proactive and patrolling. In the past, we were strictly response oriented," explained Stuhlman.

All of this will translate into a faster response time to calls — 7 to 12 minutes, she estimated — and will help in catching noise complaints in action, versus after the fact.

Stuhlman also pointed to noise detectors some VHR owners are investing in to minimize disturbance calls and violations. When the noise level passes a certain decibel, an alert is sent to the owner, who can then contact the renters and let them know to keep it down.

"We are way ahead of the curve for the rest of California. Everywhere is experiencing the issues that we, and the one thing that came out of the conversation is that enforcement is key," concluded Stuhlman, who recently returned from a conference where VHRs were the topic of discussion.

Upon conclusion of the presentation, several members of council expressed a desire for a more formalized procedure when it comes to VHR permitting.

"In order for a VHR to be approved there are two things it must be considered — and this is the crux of the conversation — a finding must be made that it meets all the regulatory environment criteria," explained Fabino.

"The development standards. That's the easy part. The hard part — the finding that talks about 'character of neighborhood.' For us that's a real balancing act."

No decisions on long-term VHR policy will be made until the completion of the socio-economic study currently being conducted by Michael Baker International — the same group that handled South Lake Tahoe's 2014-2022 Housing Element Update — and California State University's Public Policy and Administration Department.

Using data trend analysis and projections, plus community surveys and stakeholder interviews, the study will aid the city in making a data-based decision on VHRs.

The study is expected out this spring.

CORRECTION: Previously, this article incorrectly reported that $58,592 was collected in Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) from VHRs in the last fiscal year. This figure is in fact the amount of back payment in TOT collected from VHRs that were found to not be paying the required tax. The total TOT collected by VHRs in the last fiscal year is $2,868,148.

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