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Looking to rent a house? Good luck

Rob Bhatt

Like that chill in the air and the release of Warren Miller’s annual ski film, the onslaught of winter sport enthusiasts looking for a place to live is among the signs of winter at Lake Tahoe.

Besides those who take jobs at the ski resorts for single-digit wages and a season pass, the town fills up with employment at restaurants, hotels, casinos and other sectors of the service industry.

Lake Tahoe’s tourist economy is a double-edged sword when it comes to finding a place to live.



On the bright side, home prices are relatively low compared to urban areas, because landlords could not find tenants if they charged big-city rents.

Rents for three bedroom homes in San Francisco start at $1,700, according to newspaper listings. At Lake Tahoe, a three-bedroom house on a cul de sac can go for half that amount.



On the down side for most renters, however, is, even with lower rates, the service sector wages make it tough to make rent anyway.

It’s a situation that many realize after they move to the area and struggle to make ends meet.

“We figured we could save some money and get into a house,” said Dave Tylenda, who moved to the area nearly five years ago with his fiance and her son. He works at a gas station and also has a winter job lined up at Heavenly Ski Resort. “But we’re still not there. The money I make is not enough to move into a place.”

Situations like these have bred a popular catch phrase that describes living at Lake Tahoe – “poverty with a view.”

Bobbi Cole, owner/operator of Alpine Realty and Rentals, a company that manages about 300 rental units, believes there is a lot of truth to the saying.

Those who move to Lake Tahoe are typically swept up with a romantic notion of a year-round playground where everyone lives like a king in paradise.

They move here needing two sets of clothes, two sets of tires. They find themselves paying high utility bills and find two people waiting in line for every job that opens up.

“This is definitely survival of the fittest,” Cole says. “But your choices are, living here or dealing with psychosis of the city.”

Those who do move here specifically to work at the ski resorts find themselves up against unique challenges.

Most landlords prefer tenants who are in for the long haul, says Lake Tahoe Accommodations owner Greta Hambsch.

“It’s not a cakewalk if you are looking to hang out for a few months,” Hambsch says. “Most property owners are looking for someone who is going to stay a little longer.”

Turnover is hard on landlords. Houses, duplexes and apartments are investments that cost thousands of dollars. And good tenants are hard to find.

Property owners are challenged to find people who will be able to make rent payments and not abuse their property.

“You have to run the applications and hope,” says Harry Plummer, a former general contractor who rents six houses he built in the 1960s and 70s. “You have to have a gut feeling too, and it’s not always right.”

As difficult as it is, many are optimistic about the chances of finding a good home at Tahoe.

“I was always lucky,” says Mark McAllister, a ski patroller at Heavenly Ski Resort who has lived in the area for 13 years. “I found good places, but it was always a lot of work.”

McAllister rented for several years before he and his wife bought their Tahoe Paradise home in 1992.

His advice:

— Look at a lot of places and frequently check listings in newspapers.

— Get to know the different neighborhoods.

— Be ready to spend a few extra dollars.

— Find somebody who has lived in the area for a while and get their advice, because “locals will be able to help you.”

Major employers, including the ski resorts, recognize the importance of housing availability when it comes to attracting and retaining employees. But there is only so much they can do.

Heavenly anticipates its workforce peaks at more than 1,300 employees during a typical season.

The resort does have subsidized housing available for about $200 a month, including utilities and cable television. But the 132 spaces available have already filled up for the winter, and there is already a small waiting list as employees arrive for the beginning of the season.

Similarly, Kirkwood has 132 spaces available in two employee housing complexes. Its workforce reaches roughly 650 people.

Both resorts intend to add employee units in their future expansion plans.

“Having employee housing is an extremely important part of our (employee) recruiting and retention programs,” said Greg Peterman, vice president of human resources at Heavenly.


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