When looking for a place to live in the Tahoe/Truckee region, a ski lease can be one option to consider. These have been around for a long time — primarily designed for groups of skiers from outside the area to have a place to crash when they came to the mountains. Ski leases usually run four to five months and are furnished. But given the shortage of long-term rentals in the region, is a ski lease a good option for a local looking for a place to live?
Often, homeowners that offer ski leases love the Tahoe summer but have no interest in being in the mountains once the snow flies. They opt for this over vacation rentals because tenants take care of utility expenses: gas, electric, firewood, and snow removal. These expenses can be quite high in a vacation home, as short-term renters who are not paying the bills have no compunction about turning up the heat and burning all the firewood.
While ski leases do provide renters a place to live through the winter, they have several distinct disadvantages compared to other long-term rentals. First, they are often several hundred dollars more per month than a comparable one-year lease. Second, usually three months of rent plus a security deposit are required up front. This is because owners are concerned that a winter without snow may mean ski lease tenants will stop paying rent. Again, these properties are usually furnished, which can be a disadvantage if you have your own stuff. The biggest negative, however, is that the term of the lease is short.
My brother, Dan Hauserman, of Hauserman Rental Group in Tahoe City, said he has seen a few locals take up ski leases. “They take it and go as long as they can, with the idea of finding something else,” he said. “It works out for someone who wants to just live here in the winter, or [is] uncertain what they want to do in the future.” Hauserman noted there is also the possibility of approaching an owner with the concept of adding a few months during the off-season on each end of the lease.
Brett Williams, an agent with Agate Bay Realty and member of the Mountain Housing Council, noted, in his experience, the number of locals signing up for ski leases is low. “We are not seeing year-round workforce jumping into ski leases,” he said. The biggest reason: People have their own personal possessions and there is no room for them in a furnished house.
Both Williams and Hauserman do see ski leases as a good alternative for locals who are in some sort of life transition and need a place for a few months. Someone separating from a spouse is a good example.
As always, any discussion about long-term rentals in the region leads back to whether vacation rentals are displacing the workforce. “The consensus now is that the biggest issue is vacant second homes, not vacation homes,” said Williams. “When the real estate market is weak there is an increase in the supply of long-term rentals, as homeowners need money but don’t want to sell on a downturn. When the real estate market is strong, however, those houses come on the market, and buyers are buying because they want to use the property, not rent it out.”
Williams does see some signs of hope. The supply of homes rented for vacation purposes has grown over the years, while there are only so many vacationers. Meanwhile, the demand for long-term rentals keeps getting higher while the supply keeps getting lower. Economics tell us that eventually the return on vacation rentals will decline, and those who do not use their homes will find long-term rentals more attractive. There is also a concerted effort underway to get workforce housing units constructed in the region as soon as possible. Finally, real estate markets are cyclical. While a downturn is bad for homeowners, it might be good for renters.
Weighing the facts, for the person who would like to settle down and not have to move again, ski leases are not an option. “It’s not a long-term solution,” said Jessica Peterson of Hauserman Rental Group. “It can be so hard for people up here. We don’t ever take something long-term and make it short-term, unless the owner wants to. We encourage long-term rentals.”