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News: 03/15/2009

Finding of violation by vacation rental reversed

A county administrative hearing officer has recently determined that Sonoma County code enforcement staff failed to prove that a vacation rental property on Kenilworth Ave. in Kenwood held an illegal event last September.

Code enforcement had fined the owner of the property, William Triggs, for violating a county code section stating that there can’t be an event of 35 or more people on transient rental properties.

The incident in question occurred on Sept. 20 and involved a bride and groom and their guests who had attended a wedding off-site. Triggs, a San Francisco resident, often rents out his property as a high-end vacation rental. Neighbors have complained to the county on various occasions about renters’ behavior, as well as noise and the volume of traffic on the one-lane road.

After hearing complaints from neighbors about the Sept. 20 incident, code enforcement staff informed Triggs of a violation and fined him $1,400. Triggs appealed the penalty, and an abatement hearing was held Dec. 5.

At that hearing, neighbors testified about the number of vehicles they saw coming or going, including a 25-person van and two 33-person shuttle buses. There was also a video from a neighbor’s security camera. Triggs testified that no more than 20 people were ever on the property, and submitted letters and emails from members of the wedding party and one of the bus drivers.

Later in December, in a brief regarding the burden of proof, the Office of the County Counsel wrote that, “In this case, the County respectfully submits that it has proven the unlawful use of the (Kenilworth Ave. property) in violation of the Sonoma County Code at the property, by a preponderance of the evidence…submitted into evidence at the hearing on Dec. 5, 2008.”

In her decision, abatement hearing officer Lynda Millspaugh disagreed, writing that, “The County and neighbors have not produced evidence as to the number of persons on the subject property on September 20, 2008; any conclusion that more than 35 persons were on the subject property derived by the number of vehicles entering or on the subject property is speculative.”

The issue of vacation rentals in Sonoma County in general has become a hot topic recently among county officials, as the number of complaints have increased throughout the county. Though vacation rentals are required to pay Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT), the county essentially has nothing in its codes to regulate these rentals.

County staff and Supervisor Valerie Brown are currently working to set up a date for a hearing on vacation rentals, which is hoped to be scheduled for some time in April.

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