Santa Rosa City Council Imposes Immediate Regulations on Short-Term Rental Properties

Santa Rosa City Council voted early Wednesday to impose emergency regulations on vacation rental properties in a difficult first step toward governance of a growing disruptive industry in Sonoma County’s largest city.

The board vote, after a meeting that lasted more than seven hours, provided an immediate but temporary set of rules on hundreds of short-term rentals – defined as properties rented for less than 30 days – while officials develop more permanent regulations. The emergency order is expected to be in effect for at least six months, officials said.

In the meantime, even proponents of regulation worried about the city’s ability to enforce a quickly drafted but far-reaching policy that sets capacity and noise limits, fire safety rules, and party restrictions while establishing an annual license of $ 1,200 and rules on who can own these properties and how much.

The council stopped short of ordering a moratorium on the proliferation of short-term rentals as town hall drafted a permanent ordinance, in part on the advice of city attorney Sue Gallagher, who said council no had not given sufficient public notice of such a measure.

He added a restriction on opening new properties within 1,000 feet of existing properties.

The lack of a firmer pause on new vacation rentals in the city worried some board members, who feared an influx of rental properties from investors looking to enter the market ahead of the permanent regulations.

“I just want to make sure that we develop a policy while we still have a housing stock to develop it,” said City Councilor Victoria Fleming, whose district owns a large portion of the existing registered short-term rentals.

Vacation rental property owners who so far have not paid lodging taxes to the city have a two week grace period to do so and register; otherwise, they will not be able to operate under the new rules.

Santa Rosa has fallen behind other Sonoma County cities and the county government in regulating property.

City council worked on the details of the ordinance in a meeting that began at 5 p.m. Tuesday and lasted long enough – past midnight – that city staff had to change the date of the proposed resolution from 12 to 12. October 13 before the vote.

Vice-Mayor Natalie Rogers was absent. The other six council members supported the ordinance.

The meeting brought together a large number of rental property owners, some of whom accused city staff of excluding them from the expedited policy-making process, despite public meetings and a city-wide investigation.

A rental property owner and opponent of the regulations has taken steps to file a lawsuit, Gallagher told council members before they broached the case.

Residents of the city, especially in the upscale wooded enclaves of eastern Santa Rosa, report a marked increase in the number of properties converted to short-term rentals in recent years. These reports raised fears of a decrease in the housing stock and repercussions on the character of the district.

“It’s an industry that exploits and benefits from the conversion of single-family homes into small hotels,” David Long, who lives next to a rental that he says is investment property often used for loud parties.

“Industries need regulation,” Long said.

Authorities have not thoroughly investigated the number of homes that have become short-term rentals. The city, as of mid-September, had about 197 registered short-term rental properties, officials said. But an outside firm provided analysis to the city which found as many as 358 short-term rental properties advertising on various industry-dedicated websites.

The council stopped short of issuing a moratorium on the proliferation of short-term rentals as town hall drafted standing orders, but added a restriction on opening new properties within 1,000 feet of properties. existing.

Rental owners have described themselves as responsible property managers who support Sonoma County’s tourism industry and workers in the area for short periods of time – some have referred to healthcare workers in town during COVID-19 outbreaks. Much of the public commentary and council debate has focused on the distinction between hosted and non-hosted rental properties, with former landlords in particular objecting to a possible loss of income under an overly strict ordinance. .

“I had no problem,” said Kay Ward, who lived in an isolated unit behind her house, which she rents. “I like the extra income and I pay my (accommodation taxes) on time. “

Residents who have seen properties on their streets taken over by investors and converted into rental properties have expressed the deepest concern.

“Every time a home goes up for sale on our street, we prepare to know who might buy it,” said Bernadette Burrell. Five large, non-hosted short-term rental properties exist in the immediate vicinity of Burrell, near Montecito Court and Los Olivos Road.

In her street, the noises of drinking games and parties have replaced the old noises of neighboring families, she told city council.

City staff will undertake further research and seek more public comment as they develop a more permanent set of regulations for short-term rentals, officials said. As of Tuesday evening, we still didn’t know what the next public contribution opportunity would be.

You can reach editor Andrew Graham at 707-526-8667 or [email protected]. On Twitter @ AndrewGraham88.

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