South Lake Tahoe ballot measure would ban most vacation-home rentals

Affordable housing: When you have more property owners that are investors, prices rise and push out residents and workers. More communities are severely limiting or phasing out vacation rentals due to so many problems.

“Most of the 1,400 homeowners who would be affected by the measure can’t vote on it because their primary residence is outside the city. Only 23 percent of homeowners in the Lake Tahoe Basin, which includes South Lake Tahoe and surrounding neighborhoods, claim it as their principal residence for property tax purposes.”

South Lake Tahoe ballot measure would ban most vacation-home rentals

Kathleen Pender

 

Long before Airbnb and VRBO came along, people had been renting vacation homes in South Lake Tahoe. The classified section of The Chronicle on May 1, 1962, advertised a new, four-bedroom cabin in South Shore near the beach that sleeps 10, with a fireplace and “thermo heat,” for $125 a week. The phone number had just five digits.

But the growth of online rental agencies has created a bitter rift in the city between those who like vacation renters and the dollars they bring, and those who say they are disrupting neighborhoods and making it hard for full-time residents — many of whom work in lower-wage restaurant, hotel and ski resort jobs — to find affordable housing.

On Tuesday, the town of about 22,000 that attracts 5 million visitors per year will vote on a measure that would eliminate all short-term rentals — those 30 days or less — outside the “tourist core area” after 2021. There are about 400 licensed vacation rentals inside the tourist core and almost 1,400 in residential neighborhoods outside the core.

The city estimates that it could lose up to $4 million a year in tourist taxes, permit and other fees if Measure T passes. That ignores any loss of property tax revenue if many owners sell their vacation homes and prices fall. Opponents predict an economic decline as renters find vacation homes elsewhere.

“The people pushing Measure T have a problem with anybody else being there. They want Tahoe all for themselves, and that’s not really the kind of place Tahoe is,” said Steve Teshara, CEO of the Tahoe Chamber, a South Shore business group.

Proponents say Measure T would boost the city’s hotels and motels and strengthen the community by attracting more full-time residents. “I cannot allow the issue of tax revenue to be the determining factor in making decisions for the city,” said Bruce Grego, one of nine candidates running for three City Council seats. Grego, a former councilman, said he is the only candidate who unequivocally supports Measure T.

If it passes, the 1,400 vacation rentals outside the tourist core could continue operating through 2021, but if they are sold or the owners exit the business before then, that permit could not go to someone else like it can now. After three years, any remaining ones would lose their permits, although they could rent for more than 30 days. There is no limit on vacation rentals in the tourist core and commercial zones. The tourist core generally runs along Highway 50 from Stateline to a little west of Ski Run Boulevard.

One provision of the measure would take effect 10 days after results are certified. It would reduce occupancy limits on short-term rentals in residential areas. The current limit, of two people per bedroom plus four per home, would be reduced to two per bedroom, period. No sleeping in lofts or living rooms. And no home could have more than 12 occupants, regardless of size.

This could affect some reservations for Thanksgiving and beyond, said Maureen Stuhlman, who investigates vacation rentals for the South Lake Tahoe Police Department.

If the measure passes, “we don’t want to impact (existing reservations) unfairly unless we really have to,” City Attorney Heather Stroud said. “Some enforcement discretion will have to be used.”

The measure would let permanent residents rent out their homes to tourists for up to 30 days per year. It’s silent on residents who rent rooms to guests while they are home.

Most of the 1,400 homeowners who would be affected by the measure can’t vote on it because their primary residence is outside the city. Only 23 percent of homeowners in the Lake Tahoe Basin, which includes South Lake Tahoe and surrounding neighborhoods, claim it as their principal residence for property tax purposes. About 64 percent of homes elsewhere in El Dorado county are claimed as a primary residence, according to the assessor’s office.

Opponents of Measure T have raised $365,000, compared with less than $2,000 by proponents

Some resort towns have tried to rein in vacation rentals gradually, by imposing a moratorium on new permits and not renewing them when a property is sold or goes out of business. Others have proposed more extreme measures.

Pacific Grove, on the Monterey Peninsula, has an initiative on the November ballot that would prohibit short-term rentals in residential areas outside the coastal zone, and phase out existing ones within 18 months.

In June, Palm Springs voters overwhelmingly rejected an initiative that would have phased out short-term rentals in residential areas over two years. Palm Springs has a little more than twice the population of South Lake Tahoe and about the same number of licensed vacation rentals.

In late December, responding to complaints, officials in South Lake Tahoe capped the number of short-term rentals outside the tourist zone at 1,400 and imposed stiff new rules to curb noise and parking problems. If a guest parked one too many cars, the guest and the property owner would each be fined $1,000.

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