El Dorado County eyes more vacation home rental regulations | TahoeDailyTribune.com

El Dorado County eyes more vacation home rental regulations

Mackenzie Myers
Mountain Democrat

The El Dorado County Board of Supervisors held a meeting in South Lake Tahoe Wednesday, May 2.

After a series of regulations that rolled out on July 7, El Dorado County continues to tweak its vacation home rental policies.

Though unofficial at this point, the county Board of Supervisors approved a series of staff recommendations at the July 24 meeting with a 5-0 vote. County staff will continue to move forward with an ordinance to be read Aug. 28.

Sue Hennike, a county administrative analyst, presented an overview of the new changes and proposed changes at Tuesday's meeting. The policy updates that went into effect earlier this month require vacation home rentals, or VHRs, to have external signs with contact information posted.

The update also restructured the fee schedule for violations and expanded the ordinance to all unincorporated areas of El Dorado County. Rental owners must now provide bear-proof trash receptacles within the Tahoe Basin, undergo a permitting inspection and restrict the number of occupants during quiet hours.

The changes proposed at Tuesday's meeting include capping overnight guests at 12, regardless of how many bedrooms a given VHR has, and requiring a conditional use permit to surpass the occupancy cap. Quiet hours between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. would apply to all activity, not just hot tubs.

Penalties would be directed toward violators and Hennike said eventually they would like to equip enforcement staff with decibel meters to help remove the subjectivity that can come with noise violations.

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If the recommendations are ultimately drafted and approved, VHR owners will have to take an online course and test to register their rentals. VHRs would undergo inspections for both new and renewed permits.

Total permits in the Tahoe Basin may also be restricted to 900, with new permits only coming in as old ones expire. Hennike clarified this permit cap would not apply to rentals on the West Slope or partial rentals, such as when an owner hosts guests in a spare room of his or her home.

The proposed caps on both occupants and permits stirred most of the discussion at Tuesday's meeting. Some audience members expressed gratitude over the new regulations already in effect, and hope for the proposed ones. But some, including District 4 Supervisor Michael Ranalli, also felt "bad apple" renters should face the brunt of enforcement.

"I'm not a basketball player … but I know what happens when you have that one player who keeps throwing an elbow and (giving the other team) free throws: You lose," Ranalli said.

Real estate agent and former builder Mark Salmon said he felt the VHR ordinances in South Lake Tahoe were "a perfect template of what not to do" and expressed dismay over the 12-person cap. He said there were no data backing up the occupancy limit and that it could hurt the local building industry.

"Let's go deal with the bad property managers, the bad owners, the bad guests and make sure they're penalized heavily for it, and get rid of those," Salmon said. "But it's unfair to penalize everybody else and start threatening our economy, jobs, home values, et cetera."

Vacation rental owner Gail Johnson said she understood the logic behind the cap: to stop "megamansions" full of noisy guests. But she took issue with requiring owners to check in face-to-face with guests — another component of the proposed changes. She said in-person check-ins have not been proven to stop violations.

"If someone's going to break the rules, they certainly aren't going to show up (at) a face-to-face check-in with a keg in hand and 50 of their friends," Johnson said.

While some speakers were concerned with enforcement of data-driven policy, District 1 Supervisor John Hidahl expressed worry over possible inconsistency with South Lake Tahoe's VHR regulations. Renters may not recognize the municipal boundary between South Lake Tahoe and the Tahoe Basin in unincorporated El Dorado County, he pointed out.

Hidahl and District 5 Supervisor Sue Novasel were also concerned about a potential 900-permit cap flooding the process, as rental owners scramble to apply for remaining permits.

As for how the VHR ad hoc committee reached its recommendations, Hennike noted a series of public meetings that started in January 2018. Public input on VHR issues was collected at some of these meetings. Hennike's presentation also included a list of similar jurisdictions – chosen based on factors like geography, population and tourism — which were considered in forming the proposed regulations.

Hennike said county staff plans to have an internal meeting to gather as much data as they can on where violations are occurring before the official ordinance is brought back to the board next month.