BY BECCA LOUX & ALEX HOEFT | Moonshine Ink
Housing vacancy rates in the region vary from about 50% of the homes vacant in Truckee and Kings Beach to 80% of the homes in Tahoma vacant most of the time, according to the Short-Term Rental White Paper released in 2019 by the Mountain Housing Council. All these empty homes are used as second or shared homes, rented out long term or short term (STRs).
In Truckee, of the 13,368 available housing units at that time, 52% were second homes; 28% were occupied by full-time residents; 20% were rented long term; and 12.6% were short-term or vacation rentals. In eastern Placer County, of 25,569 available housing units in 2019, 68% were second homes; 28% were occupied by full-time residents; 9% were rented long term; and 14% were short-term or vacation rentals.
Yet all this could be shifting; Placer County district 5 supervisor Cindy Gustafson explored the possibility in a recent interview with Moonshine that long-term rentals might be the new appeal even beyond COVID-19.
Since the coronavirus hit and STRs were subsequently banned in accordance with the restriction of nonessential travel, the newly developed STR compliance hotline for Placer County has been ringing off the hook. Of 616 calls made from March to the first two weeks of May, 321 were complaints of unlawful STRs (a combination of calls directly to the sheriff, Placer’s hotline, and the hotline managed by Code Compliance); 128 turned out to be long-term rental complaints, and of the 193 short-term complaints, 31 weren’t occupied.
Truckee transplants from the Bay Area, Colin Frolich and his wife, Kai, have an idea that is helping the short-term to long-term rental switch happen faster: Landing Locals, a newly rebranded platform looking to connect homeowners with long-term tenants.
“Basically we had this hypothesis of okay, it’s not that we don’t have enough housing in the area, it’s that we need to figure out a way to unlock existing housing inventory,” Frolich explained. “ … We wanted to recognize that it was really challenging for locals to find housing. There’s a ton of housing available, it’s just there’s no matchmaking happening there, there’s no intermediary.”
Landing Locals meets the needs for two different groups: locals looking to rent long term and locals looking to find renters long term. (Long term meaning over 30 days. Frolich said the shortest lease they’ve ever done was three months.) Both parties register through the website and enter the backend database to find a match.
“We think our model is really interesting because we can say to the owners, ‘Hey, you are obviously interested in earning stable monthly income, would you let us find you a really good locally employed person?’” he continued. “We prioritize the people who are already in our database who are locally employed.”
Frolich’s words aren’t just frosting: With the COVID-19 crisis breathing down the neck of second homeowners in the area — people who have lost “thousands and thousands of dollars,” he said, in recent months with the STR ban, the idea of Bay Area folks (for example) willing to pay a year of rent up front is enticing to say the least.
“We had to really take a step back and go okay, let’s revisit our mission,” Frolich said. “Let’s make sure we’re doubling down on local employment preference, and let’s very nicely say to the folks that are trying to move here, ‘Hey, we’re prioritizing locally employed folks for these houses.’”
In the months leading up to the coronavirus pandemic, Landing Locals would get three to five homeowners a month interested in putting their house up for rent long term. At any given time, the business would have two or three rentals. By the time the COVID dust settled in April, 50 different homeowners had reached out looking to convert to long-term rental options.
It was their busiest month ever; a dozen places rented out in the 30 days, both 6- and 12-month leases. May followed with a “huge boom in demand,” Frolich said, primarily from Bay Area people suddenly allowed to work remotely until the end of the year (or longer) — and ideally in Tahoe.
Interest in shifting to long-term renting has waned in recent weeks, with homeowners previously seeking to change to long-term renting telling Frolich they may use their Tahoe homes this summer after all.
“My expectation is by the end of the summer we’re going to get probably a second wave of homeowners because we’re probably going to realize we’re not opening gondolas the same way, we’re not going to have the same demand for short-term rentals, we’re not going to have the out-of-state rentals,” Frolich told Moonshine. “… I think come the fall we’re going to see a resurgence of this virus and we’re going to see a lot more lockdown. Then we’ll see another wave of housing opportunities for Landing Locals.”