South Lake Tahoe considers service that tracks down illegal VHRs
The city of South Lake Tahoe may be turning to a third-party service to track down unpermitted vacation home rentals, collect unpaid lodging taxes, and handle complaint calls.
At the Sept. 19 City Council meeting, Ulrik Binzer, founder and CEO of Host Compliance, presented a range of vacation home rental (VHR) monitoring and enforcement solutions his company offers for local governments.
At the core of those services is a software used by Host Compliance, which scans the nearly 25 different booking websites for VHRs — like Airbnb and VRBO — and determines which properties are unpermitted, haven’t been paying transient occupancy tax (TOT), or have been under-reporting their revenue to pay less TOT.
“We ran some numbers and currently there are 3,398 VHR listings in South Lake Tahoe, and when you remove those duplicate listings you end up with about 2,067 unique listings. About 1,800 of those are permitted,” said Binzer, adding that he expects those listing numbers to go up in the winter season.
The company can also determine how frequently a VHR has been rented and see if the correct amount of TOT has been paid, if at all. Host Compliance then sends out a letter alerting the VHR owner to the violation and requesting payment.
Host Compliance currently works with 70 cities and counties across the country, including Placer County and Truckee.
According to Binzer, in nine months Host Compliance helped Placer County collect more than $780,000 in unpaid TOT for an annual cost of $196,000. In Truckee, they collected $111,289 in the first two months for an annual cost of $72,600.
The cost depends on the number of VHR listings in the jurisdiction, as well as the services used, which can include a 24-hour hotline to handle complaint calls.
“We have a hotline that is designed to be the first line of defense for nuisances,” said Binzer. “Instead of having the police deal with it — they obviously have other things to do — or a full-time staff member, who is being pulled in different directions, they can call our call center and report the issue.”
The call center calls the local contact on file for the VHR, and also asks for any evidence, like photos or videos, the caller might have of the violation. The operator gives the VHR owner or manager 20 to 30 minutes, depending on what the city decides, to address the complaint. The operator then calls back the complainant to see if the situation has been addressed. If not, the community service officer is called to the scene.
All of this data on code violations and letters sent out to VHR owners is accessible in an online platform for city officials.
The presentation received an overwhelmingly positive response from the City Council, who instructed city staff to look into what aspects of the service they should employ — and also to determine whether or not they need to request bids from other companies.
The estimated annual cost for the city to sign on with Home Compliance is $88,702, according to a staff report by South Lake Tahoe Police Chief Brian Uhler.
The presentation took place two weeks after South Lake Tahoe City Council decided to rework proposed changes to the code governing vacation home rentals, which, among other provisions, suggested a cap on the number of VHR permits and a 250-foot distance requirement between VHRs in residential areas.
City Council could not agree on certain aspects of the amendments and decided to revisit the issue in October.