Ban on new vacation rentals extended
In early December, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors extended its moratorium on new short-term vacation rentals in the unincorporated parts of the county for 60 days, an attempt to preserve the already limited rental housing stock at a time when thousands of people have been displaced by the October wildfires.
The fires destroyed over 5,100 residences in Sonoma County, including 183 in Glen Ellen and 140 in Kenwood.
On Oct. 24, as part of a number of emergency housing measures, the board placed a 45-day temporary ban on the issuance of new whole-house vacation rental permits as well as permits for any new hosted rentals, defined as the rental of a single room in a house where the owner is in residence.
At its Dec. 2 meeting the board extended the moratorium on rentals for 60 days, though it lifted the ban on new hosted rental permits. County planners had recommended a 90-day extension.
Properties that already have a vacation rental permit are not affected by the moratorium. The Russian River area is also exempt from a ban on new permits.
Sonoma County was already experiencing a rental housing crunch before the fires, with vacancy rates for residential rentals less than 2 percent, according to 2015 data, compared to almost 6 percent in 2011.
At the Dec. 2 board meeting, county planning director Tennis Wick said the extension would allow the county to collect more data on the availability of housing for fire victims, including data on what the impact is of vacation rentals is on housing availability.
There are a total of 1,538 permitted vacation rentals in Sonoma County.
Supervisorial District 1, which includes Sonoma Valley, has the most vacation rentals at 704.
Supervisors expressed gratitude to those vacation rental owners who have made homes available to fire victims, but were disturbed by some stories of high prices being charged.
“What I’m concerned about are houses that are appropriate for housing families that are refugees from the fire,” said First District Supervisor Susan Gorin. “When a property owner says sure I’ll rent you a one bedroom cottage for $10,000 a month, it boggles the mind when we have working families, families working in the hospitality industry, they can’t afford $10,000 a month.”
Supervisor David Rabbit questioned the need for extending the moratorium, citing unclear information on the real impacts of vacation rentals on fire victims and the overall housing market.
“We could collect the data without a moratorium,” said Rabbit. “We need more data, and what are we trying to achieve? I feel like we’re making decisions not based on facts, but on anecdotes… You don’t do a moratorium unless you’re trying to fix a known and solvable problem.”
Rabbit was the only supervisor to vote against the extension.
Planning officials have recently created incentives for vacation rental owners to make the homes available to fire victims. If homes are made available, owners will be exempt from paying the 2018 county monitoring fee, collecting Transient Occupancy Tax, or meeting the Jan. 1 deadline requiring owners to have a property manager who has passed a certification test.
If vacation rentals are transitioned to longterm use, owners can still resume operation of a vacation rental in the future.
For more information on this program, call 565-1932.
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