City ponders question of problem vacation rentals |

City ponders question of problem vacation rentals

Michael S. Green

The first sign of trouble are the dozens of cars, and occasional tour buses, that roll past your house.

Chances are they’re heading for a vacation rental home, a growing segment of the South Lake Tahoe housing scene. And, chances are, the short-term tenants won’t be a problem.

But some renters party hearty well past midnight – drawing complaints about traffic, garbage and noise – and the same thing can happen week after week: same house, different renters. What can be done to hold nuisance renters and homeowners responsible?

That was the question Tuesday before the South Lake Tahoe City Council. One answer would be to fine renters who fail to heed police warnings. Another involves fining owners of problem “party houses,” and revoking business licenses of repeat offenders.

Those answers were contained in a rough draft of an ordinance modeled on laws in Big Bear Lake, Newport Beach and other California resort towns. But the answers only raised more questions, including how any new ordinance might be enforced.

In the end, the council formed a subcommittee of Councilwoman Judy Brown and Mayor Hal Cole to explore the issue, which actually involves several issues:

n Many vacation rentals are run by property management firms, which turned out in force Tuesday concerned new regulations might be imminent. “Why as a business owner, why as a property manager, should we be held responsible for somebody else’s inappropriate behavior?” asked Craig Morris, director of product development for Lake Tahoe Accommodations.

n Unlike drug and alcohol violations, complaints about noise and disturbing the peace require a neighbor to make a citizen’s arrest, something many residents are reluctant to do. It’s also hard for police to track down an off-site property owner. A new ordinance “would just provide us some more tools when we’re already responding for enforcement” to problem houses, said Brad Bennett, chief of police and fire.

n Vacation homes account for a growing share of the city’s transient occupancy tax, but only about 800 homes have business licenses. Hundreds more may be unlicensed. “I don’t believe we have any idea how many vacation rental homes are in South Lake Tahoe,” said Fred Mercado, the city’s legal coordinator.

n Enforcement was the buzzword Tuesday, regardless of what form the ordinance might take. Without funding, said Councilwoman Brooke Laine, “we’ll be in the same place as the sign ordinance and nobody wants to go there.”

Councilman Bill Crawford noted that rental homes are not the only problem in a tourist town, pointing to chronic parking problems on Venice Drive. He asked staff to report back on the city’s existing nuisance ordinances and how well they’re being enforced.

“When you talk about noise, and parking and litter, you’re talking about South Lake Tahoe in general,” he said.

But Dick Powers, a Tahoe Keys resident, said action was needed to deal with problem renters.

“Where else are we to go to bring some control to the use of these dwellings?” Powers said. “It’s to the tenant and the owner.”

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