Volunteers collect signatures for VHR ban in South Lake Tahoe neighborhoods
Outside of Grocery Outlet on a chilly Martin Luther King Jr. Day, four volunteers collect signatures for a petition that proposes banning vacation home rentals from South Lake Tahoe neighborhoods.
It’s going well, they say, though they won’t reveal the number of signatures they’ve collected since Saturday when they officially began circulating the petition.
The initiative seeks to put a question on the ballot asking voters whether vacation rentals outside the tourist core should be phased out over a three-year period. Permanent residents, however, would be allowed to rent out their home or a unit on the same parcel for up to 30 days a year. It does not apply to VHRs within the tourist core.
“Allowing an issue like this to go before the voters is the most important thing. The initiative process is really a great piece of our democracy,” said Peggy Bourland, one of the volunteers collecting signatures. “There has been disappointment in how the council approached this issue from the broader community perspective. If the voters make the decision, whatever that is, then we’ll live with that. It’s just that simple.”
Bourland is part of the grassroots group Tahoe Neighborhoods Group, whose members Dr. Kenneth Weitzman and Daniel Browne, Jr. first notified the city of their intent to circulate the petition at the beginning of December soon after council voted to implement a cap of 1,400 VHR permits in residential areas and steeper fines, among other changes.
Before heading in to do his shopping, South Lake Tahoe resident Donald Evans stopped at the booth festooned with signs reading “VHR’s??? Let the voters decide!!!” and “Ban VHR’s in our neighborhoods” and signed the petition.
“They are nothing but a headache,” he said. “I’m sandwiched between all of these VHRs, and it just is a big nuisance because I have people throwing up in front of my house and partying. They are parking in my spot. Trash everywhere. It’s a constant problem.”
Paul Braaten filled out a voter form — all signees must be South Lake Tahoe registered voters — before adding his name to the petition.
“When I first moved here, I was living in my car for three weeks because the housing was so tight here. I do stay with friends on occasion, but there are so many places around them that sit empty because they are vacation home rentals. It’s ridiculous that people that live here can’t find a place to live,” said Braaten. “I have three jobs so it’s not like I’m not working.”
Tahoe Neighborhoods Group has until June 19 to collect at least 1,036 valid signatures (groups have 180 days to collect the necessary signatures) from registered voters in South Lake Tahoe, the equivalent of 10 percent of the voters from the last reported registrar.
The deadline for getting a measure on the November ballot is July 5.
MORE HOUSING? LESS MONEY?
Opinions on the impacts of a VHR ban in South Lake Tahoe’s residential zones are varied.
Proponents claim that removing a majority of the 1,400 VHRs in residential areas will alleviate trash, noise and parking violations associated with the short-term rentals, while freeing up housing for long-term rentals or purchase by local families.
Opponents, on the other hand, argue that while a few houses may become available for rent or purchase, most will remain second or vacation homes. They also assert that the city stands to lose a considerable amount of revenue in Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT), which VHRs generated $3.1 million in during the 2016-17 fiscal year.
South Lake Tahoe real estate agent Brandie Jordan Griffith is among those who believe the ban will open up more housing for full-time residents.
“I think that we have a temporary saturation of people listing their homes, and we would possibly see a decline in home value for a short period, but clearly I think it will stabilize and during that process we’ll be able to see more families being able to purchase homes,” said Jordan Griffith.
“I’m a homeowner. I’m willing to give up a little of my hyper-inflated home value to stabilize the market for true value when we actually see some of this out-of-town money go away, and some of the people that actually live here become first-time homebuyers or investors.”
Though local Realtor Tracy Wood agrees that a temporary dip in the housing market could occur, she does not believe that it will open up more long-term rentals or homes for sale — or that the ban will pass to begin with. She argues that the number of properties that operate for pure profit are a small fraction of the total VHRs in town.
“What I’ve seen is people that want to retire here. I see people that bought second homes … some of these people have the same amount of love and respect for this town as a full-time resident,” said Wood.
“They come up here and bought a home and because you tell them they can’t VHR, do you really think they are going to sell that house? I think the amount of people that are so dependent on that money to keep that home is a lot lower than people think.”
She believes they will search out alternative options, like a three-six month ski lease or a long-term lease to a group of families for a shared vacation home.
“But we don’t have a crystal ball,” she noted.
South Lake Tahoe is not alone in its challenge to regulate VHRs; cities across California are grappling with it, with some attempting bans in residential areas.
In October, Palm Desert amended its ordinance to include steeper fines for VHR owners and renters — anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 — and revocation of permits for repeat offenders. Existing VHRs on properties in single-family neighborhoods zoned R-1 and R-2 will be phased out and banned by July 1, 2019.
However, in Laguna Beach, the California Coastal Commission, which authorizes land-use changes in coastal cities, voted this December to reject the city’s short-term rental ordinance that prohibited VHRs in neighborhoods. They said it “would restrict alternate lodging and public access,” according to The Laguna Beach Indy.
Santa Monica’s ordinance, which only allows home-sharing when the host is present, prompted a lawsuit from short-term rental giant Airbnb. The lawsuit was amended this December following the Laguna Beach decision to focus more on alleged violations of the California Coastal Act.
Down in Mammoth Lakes where VHRs are not allowed in residential areas, illegal rentals were running rampant. Back in 2015 when the town’s council indicated they were going to address the issue, voters feared they would legalize them and passed a measure barring the council from acting on the topic without public approval.
These are just a handful of the approaches taking place across California — and the country — as municipalities struggle to regulate a growing industry amid a statewide housing crisis.