Single-use Resident Ordiance comes under city scrunity
Housing in South Lake Tahoe is hot topic and a presentation to city council Tuesday on single-room occupancy led to a lively discussion.
John James, building official for the city, presented the work he and his team have done on the SRO program.
The SRO program was started in 2015 to provide ordinances for building owners, specifically motel owners, who use their facility as long-term living facilities.
The program gives a tax break to building owners who apply to be part of the SRO program. That tax break goes into effect before the building comes into compliance, leading to abuse of the program.
According to James, for the first two years of the program, they received 69 applications and had zero units approved as compliant.
In 2017, James started taking a tougher stance on applicants.
“I told them, you’re either in or your out,” James said during his presentation.
Meeting compliance entails meeting ADA standards, providing power and energy to withhold household appliances, meeting number of residents per square footage standards, providing separate kitchen and bathroom facilities among other standards.
While James is working to get SRO owners up to compliance, his hands are tied on punishments for not meeting standards. The department will fine owners $520 per unit for substandard living environments, but it’s a one-time fee.
Currently, 49% of SRO applicants are compliant but both councilmembers and community members are concerned about owner’s abusing the program.
James spoke of people living in water heater closets, trash on the premises and rooms housing six or more individuals, especially people who come to work in the city through the J-1 visa.
“There are questions on whether this program is serving its purpose,” said Councilmember Devin Middlebrook.
James said a major change he would make to the program would be to eliminate the tax-break until owners are SRO compliant.
Not all SRO owners are bad though, James said.
John Beltramo, owner of the Matterhorn Motel which is SRO compliant, said there isn’t an economic incentive to become compliant.
He said he made his building compliant because he felt it was the right thing to do and recommends changing the tax-break to, “an incentive not an upfront right.”
The whole council agreed that the program needs to be readdressed.
Councilmember Tamara Wallace said she didn’t think the city should dump the program completely, especially while the city is still solving housing issues.
Middlebrook expressed concerned about some of the motels converting into living areas because of Measure T taking away many rental options for visitors.
While no decision on changes to the program was made at the meeting, all members agreed to talk about it again in the future.
In the meantime, Councilmember Cody Bass said, “We need enforcement for slum lords.”