With the coronavirus pandemic breathing visitors and new residents into the Tahoe region, short-term rental regulations were a hot topic on the agenda at the Aug. 11 Town of Truckee council meeting.

A process originally planned to begin back in April, paused because of COVID-19, expected to resume in January 2021, and then yielding a more pronounced need because of increased visitation to the region in recent weeks, town staff presented to council the first steps of establishing an ordinance to regulate STRs. Council unanimously adopted staff’s recommendation. 

“In my opinion, it’s long overdue,” Mayor David Polivy told Moonshine Ink in a text message sent after the meeting.

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Not only are the STR ordinance efforts in response to COVID crowds, but “we are also trying to make incremental steps on the things we can control and be responsive to the community at the same time,” Polivy wrote. 

As the town is also in the midst of hiring a new town manager, Polivy added that this process can be done successfully under interim management.

Hilary Hobbs, management analyst with the town, explained what was accepted as part of staff’s recommendation to pursue “short-term rental regulations: a fee structure for Transient Occupancy Tax registration that covers the cost of STR administration and enforce activities; additional community-wide nuisance abatement regulations (so that would be things like looking at a noise ordinance); and [an] administration and enforcement plan for implementing and enforcing new STR requirements.”

Monitoring the program is recommended for the first year if the ordinance is adopted, with council then slated to decide whether additional steps might be warranted. The full staff report is available online.

Truckee Mayor David Polivy leads a discussion at the Aug. 11 council meeting about creating an ordinance for short-term rentals. Screenshot

Council deliberation for the agenda item was kept short on purpose, with Polivy requesting only high-level feedback. Deeper discussions, he said, will happen in the coming weeks.

Four objectives are on the docket for STR regulations, but only three of those were identified to go before council without the need for significant community conversation, as “there seems to be fairly broad community alignment,” said Hobbs. The stated goals ready for discussion are as follows:

  1. Create rules that minimize nuisance issues associated with STRs, such as overflow parking, trash, loud noise, occupancy levels, etc.
  2. Create an administrative framework to license STR operators, and an enforcement framework to enforce STR rules. Both of these should be funded through STR licensing fees so as to not diminish other town services.
  3. Create a higher level of accountability on STR operators to reduce nuisance issues through enhanced oversight and enforcement.

The fourth objective, which won’t be considered at this time, looks at whether community visitation to Truckee can be managed by limiting the number or usage of short-term rentals. Hobbs noted that the idea was a contentious one, and multiple comments urged further conversation on the matter. After the first year of the program, the council can decide if more community dialogue is warranted.

Hobbs explained that town staff’s proposal is an expedited process that still includes community feedback, just not to the full extent that would normally be planned. Based on the feedback received from council on Aug. 11, she foresaw that efforts to create a draft ordinance would take two weeks or less and then be pushed out for public review.

“That would be published for any member of the public to review on our website and social media,” Hobbs continued. “[We] would also do outreach with stakeholder groups including [Mountain Area Preservation], [Contractors Association of Truckee Tahoe], the [Truckee Tourism Business Improvement District] committee and Visit Truckee, Tahoe Sierra Board of Realtors, large HOAs like Tahoe Donner, Glenshire, Sierra Meadows, and current registered STR operators, as well as the Truckee Chamber.”

Opportunity for the public to review and provide comments is expected to take place for about two weeks, with staff then considering and making adjustments based on that feedback, then bringing the draft ordinance to town council. In total, the town council  expects to see a draft ordinance in about six weeks.

While parts of the ordinance could start prior to 2021, the fee structure, if approved, wouldn’t likely begin until Jan. 1, 2021.

“Our expectation is that next summer will definitely be a test of how well the program is working,” said interim town manager Dan Wilkins during the council meeting, “and this winter maybe as well, depending on whether this visitation activity that we’re currently seeing holds through the winter or not. I think it could; I think it’s going to depend on what happens with the ski areas which is a bit of a question mark right now.”

The trade-off for a speedy delivery is a less-than-robust community dialogue, which Hobbs wanted to be transparent about. Originally, spring 2020 plans included multiple focus groups and public meetings, and a five- to six-month-long process.

Over 80 written comments in total were submitted regarding the agenda item (all of which are available as part of the town’s public record), with an overwhelming majority in favor of passage. For comments to actually be shared at the meeting, members of the public were required to leave voice messages under three minutes prior to 5 p.m.; only seven comments were broadcast during the meeting.

The proposed ordinance would include HOAs, which some were concerned staff wouldn’t consider. Truckee resident Paco Lindsay, as part of his submitted written public comment, compared the possibility of excluding HOAs from the proposed STR restrictions to “putting the coyotes in charge of the chicken coop.”

“The potential corruption of buying an HOA election by the multi-billion dollar STR industry with well-funded board candidates, spending tens of thousands of dollars to win seats, is very real,” he wrote. “And many HOA boards are represented by people who do not live in Truckee full-time, do not vote in Truckee, and they have a very different set of priorities than the town’s residents.”

Former and prospective board members with Tahoe Donner Association either called or emailed in, expressing support for the adoption of the ordinance, including Rob McCray, Jennifer Jennings, and Jeff Connors. McCray mentioned in his voice message that nearly 20% of homes in Tahoe Donner are used as vacation rentals.

Recent counts on STRs, which are identified as housing units rented for less than 31 days, cite approximately 1,750 registered units — approximately 12.9% of the town’s housing units. Note that those registered as STRs aren’t always active. 

The topic of STRs is being discussed throughout the Tahoe Basin. Shortly after the statewide stay-at-home order in March, South Lake Tahoe issued an emergency ordinance allowing citations for those violating the order, including vacation home rentals. On June 12, STRs were once again permitted to operate in the city.

Chapter 3.50 in the South Lake Tahoe city code addresses vacation home rentals, with the conditions of operation providing restrictions on noise, parking, and trash, among other issue areas.

The current ordinance considers vacation home rentals as the use of an entire dwelling for less than 30 consecutive days; thus, shared rentals — where less than the entire unit is rented for the same time period — are not covered. The city, however, is looking to shift regulations for shared rentals in light of increased demand and is seeking public comment, which must be considered by staff prior to the September planning commission meeting; interested parties should submit by Aug. 21.

Washoe County, too, is looking to apply stricter regulations on its STRs, particularly in Incline Village and Crystal Bay. A public outreach process began in the summer of 2019. After a series of back-and-forth staff recommendations and board-directed changes, an updated draft will go in front of the board Aug. 25. If the board is happy with the second draft, possible adoption could happen as soon as Sept. 22.

The staff report proposed to amend such articles as updating parking requirements; establishing standards and limitations for signage, noise, and garbage collection; and defining unpermitted STRs as public nuisances. The full report can be found here. Placer County’s STR ordinance went into effect on Jan. 1 of this year.