Washoe County needs to limit short-term rentals (Opinion)

Judith Miller
Guest column

The Board of County Commissioners will again be considering regulations for short term rentals next Tuesday, Feb. 23. The proposed code amendments were initially heard a year ago and were scheduled to come back to the commissioners with even weaker regulations last August.

At the last minute, the meeting was canceled because of problems with Zoom, according to Washoe County officials. My belief is that we had so many residents trying to log in, we “broke” the system. We were hopeful that provisions might be added that would help protect our community.

It’s been seven years since the first time I started asking the county why there weren’t limits on this use; the code said that residential zones were supposed to have mostly non-transient occupancy. That language will be removed and the new regulations will allow nearly every residence in our community to be used as a short term rental. Disappointingly, there are still no limits.

If you are, or were, a full time renter forced out of your home as the owners/investors transform(ed) former workforce/student housing into vacation rentals, you need to register your concerns at next week’s meeting.

If you are an owner, full or part time, and have been affected by the overcrowding and other problems associated with STR’s, your input is critical as well. You don’t need to prepare a lengthy dissertation. Just let the commissioners know how too many STR’s hurt the community.

Washoe County allegedly wanted to wait and see how other communities approached the STR problem. But now that they are the last agency in the basin to adopt STR regulations, and have seen the devastation caused by overtourism, they still seem unwilling to recognize the need for limits. Last summer the problems created by just too many tourists were in full display: not only traffic, crime, noise, crowds, lack of parking, and heaps of trash but also environmental concerns.

These regulations accomplish only two positives: they do ensure our visitors will at least have an accommodation that has passed certain safety inspections and they will provide increased revenue for the county, the visitors authority and STR operators. Sadly, most of the transient lodging tax that comes from our community does not stay in our community; the small portion that does stay here is used to promote more tourism — just what we need.

Additionally, the enforcement provisions were weakened from what was originally proposed. There will be no unannounced inspections so confirming a violation will be an involved process, and no signs on the property with the permit number or phone number for complaints.

The obvious driver for these regulations has been commercial interests. Commissioners requested reduced permit fees for rentals with a licensed property manager, but no reduction for a homeowner who is only renting out a part of their home and is onsite to monitor activities. In many areas where there is actual concern for preserving neighborhoods, STR use is only permitted where the owner is a resident and occupies the home for the entire time it is rented on a short term basis. This was the original concept of a “homestay.”

TRPA has “recommendations” for limiting STR’s using density/intensity considerations so that no single neighborhood will be unduly impacted. But the county, which contracted with Host Compliance over a year ago to collect data on STR locations, claims they need data to propose such limits. Furthermore, they have refused to share this data with the public.

Without some kind of limit, about the only hope we have left to maintain our community character is that the market will be flooded with so many short term rentals that vacancy rates will rise and permit fees will be so high that it will no longer make economic sense to operate them. But with the huge growth in nearby Reno/Sparks that’s an unlikely scenario.

There’s not much room in the commissioners meeting hall in Reno (there are still COVID limits in place), but public comment will be taken via Zoom. The public hearing for short term rental regulations is scheduled to begin at, or after 2:30 p.m. The Zoom link and instructions for public comment can be found on the agenda for the Feb. 23 meeting.

Many longtime locals are wondering if it isn’t time to move; there are not many places that can compare with Tahoe. Please don’t let unlimited STR’s take over our community.

Judith Miller is an Incline Village resident.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.