Douglas County looks at new vacation rental rules |

Douglas County looks at new vacation rental rules

Kurt Hildebrand

There aren’t any hotels in Ruhenstroth, Gardnerville Ranchos or Johnson Lane, but that doesn’t mean someone couldn’t rent an overnight stay in those places.

A quick search of Airbnb reveals more than a half-dozen spots available in the East Fork Township, where vacation rentals are prohibited by county ordinance.

Douglas County has long permitted vacation rentals in the Tahoe Township, but in order to spend a long weekend in Carson Valley visitors had to book a room at a hotel.

Last week, county commissioners heard a presentation on proposed changes to the vacation home rentals ordinance.

Community Development Director Mimi Moss said before considering expanding the ordinance to East Fork, there were quite a few things that had to happen at Tahoe first.

“Our thinking is that it’s better to get it right for Tahoe before we initiate anything for the rest of Douglas County,” she said.

She said the current ordinance needs to be more restrictive.

“We’ve been too lenient,” she said. “We need more teeth. We’re not saying we should go the route South Lake Tahoe has gone, but we need more authority, because that’s not available today.”

She said that violations, revocations, fines and penalties need to be revised to strengthen the ordinance.

“We want to move it into the public nuisance section, which has the teeth to enforce corrections by property owners, either through fines and penalties or revoking the permit,” she said.

The department is began life-safety inspections on vacation rentals four weeks ago. She said so far property owners have been accommodating.

According to Moss there are 480 existing vacation rental permits on the books.

“We’ve never inspected the properties unless there’ve been complaints,” she said. “When it’s time to renew, we want to have them set up an inspection. If they haven’t had problems, it should be easy.

Those inspections will mean increasing the cost of a permit, which are $100 a year to start and $75 to renew.

“That is far short of what it would cost for the time it would take to inspect and permit vacation home rentals,” she said.

Moss said inspections would also allow the county to verify how many occupants would be allowed.

Under the code, a home can rent to two people per bedroom plus four. For a three bedroom home that means 10 people could be in the home.

But parking may not permit that many.

“If you have parking in a driveway with two spaces, that means permitting an occupancy at 10 people would limit how some of them get there.

“It’s difficult to know how many people are living in a unit,” she said. “But we know when you have more vehicles parked there than spaces that’s a problem.”

Zephyr Cove resident Joanne Zerg told commissioners there is a vacation rental that sleeps 18 people near her home.

“Parking and bears are the least of my problems,” she said. “One time people staying there bought two boxes of wood and started a bonfire where the trees start. I woke up at 12:30 a.m. and ran out and stopped it with our garden hose.”

Zerg said one day two renters who were setting up for a bachelor party knocked looking for a package at her address, which doesn’t get home mail delivery.

“‘You sent drugs to my house didn’t you?’” she told commissioners she said to them. “Garbage, parking? That’s small stuff. These are the things that are going on, especially the fire. These people are drunk as a skunk by midnight.”

Lake Tahoe Accommodations Product Development Manager Joshua Priou urged commissioners not to make major changes without verifying complaints.

“Please get this straight before you start making crazy rules and regulations,” he said. “Before you change the fine structure, find out how many you’ve imposed. I don’t think there’s any.”

Priou protested the expansion of South Lake Tahoe’s vacation home rules.

Douglas County planning commissioners have approved bed-and-breakfast permits for three homes in Carson Valley over the past years.

Residents are obtaining a special use permit instead of vacation home rentals due to county code.

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