On March 19, Gov. Gavin Newsom enacted a statewide “stay at home” order, which, among other things, called for a ban on “nonessential travel” and local authorities have clarified that this limits the use of short-term rentals. STRs are defined as any rental for a period of 30 days or less including vacation homes, hotels, etc.
Several days later, in an effort to minimize visitors and travel in hopes of easing strain from the COVID-19 pandemic on our local infrastructure, both Placer and Nevada counties along with the Town of Truckee authorized a temporary ban on STRs.
Truckee’s ban includes several exemptions for essential workers, people in quarantine, and a few other one-off exceptions. Placer and Nevada counties have similar temporary restrictions.
Placer County provided this clarification: Short-term rental units may only operate to provide COVID-19 mitigation and containment measures (for example, isolation and quarantine or the housing of displaced persons or the homeless); to provide housing for essential critical infrastructure workers; and for use by the property owner and his/her immediate family members.
Both Placer and Nevada counties have taken real action, immediately, to enforce the state’s executive order. The temporary ban is not just a request. Violations in Placer County could provide problems for noncompliant STR renters: “The fine for a code violation is up to $500 per day for each violation in the first citation and up to $1,000 per day for each violation in the second citation,” according to the county’s website. And in Truckee this means it is a misdemeanor to book a vacation home or hotel room and travel to Truckee until the order is lifted.
The idea behind the timely and unprecedented ban and the counties’ actions was to enforce the stay at home order, not to encourage people to travel to another place to stay.
Nevertheless, there are still dozens of available STRs listed, and rental platforms such as Airbnb and VRBO continue unchecked and remain operating business as usual. And some property owners have even promoted that people stay here during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some STR operators are listing their properties in a way that clearly puts their individual needs over the well-being of this community. For example, one listing states, “Isolate in style! Panoramic Lake Views, Hot Tub and More.” Others include “Shelter In Place in a Beautiful Remodeled Luxury Home w/Hot Tub” and “Shelter in Place in a sparkling clean luxury home-Hot Tub.” Some but not all of these listings have been modified or deleted with pressure from local residents.
(It’s important to note that while some of these STR advertisements refer to “shelter[ing] in place,” California’s is a ‘stay at home’ order, which are distinct from one another.)
Properties are being leveraged to their max. This is true now and even before the COVID-19 crisis. If you search the STR platforms, you’ll find listings with extreme ratios of bed/bedrooms to the number of guests they accommodate. One lists seven bedrooms, sleeps 28. Keep in mind that Placer County alone has some 5,000 registered rentals. Granted not all sleep 28, but there is no shortage of listings that accommodate large groups of 10 or more in standard four-bedroom homes.
The availability of STRs during the COVID-19 crisis, at a time when it has never been more important to limit travel and social gatherings, is exposing the need for more sensible regulations in Nevada County, similar to what Placer County has recently adopted. Placer County’s recent STR ordinances regulate everything from permitting and parking to interior safety requirements. Nevada County and Truckee’s only “regulation” is that you register your property and pay your property taxes. Given that the greater Tahoe/Truckee area is split between counties, the time has come to have consistent regulations throughout this area.
I am in no way stating that there should be an outright ban on STRs. However, looking beyond the COVID-19 crisis, it may be time for a sensible and balanced approach. Placer County and their recent policies are a great roadmap for Nevada County and Truckee to follow.
~ Court Leve has been living in California since the mid ’90s and is now a full-time Truckee resident of nearly two decades. Court works as a freelance photographer and has traveled the world for a wide variety of clients.