Sacramento: The fate of short-term vacation rentals in South Lake Tahoe is on the ballot at an upcoming election, and the issue is dividing the community.
South Lake Tahoe is the lake’s only incorporated city with roughly 22,000 permanent residents, but during peak tourist periods the population can rise to nearly five times that size.
A growing number of those visitors are opting for short-term rentals, such as Airbnb or VRBO, which some residents say is squeezing the already-tight and fragmented housing market.
However, a new measure called Measure T is being proposed, which if passed would allow for unlimited rentals in commercial zones, but partially ban them outside the tourist core. Permanent residents would still be able to rent out their homes for up to 30 days per year.
Sharon Kerrigan is with the South Tahoe Association of Realtors, part of a group called Sustainable Community Alliance, which opposes Measure T. She said tourism is essentially Tahoe’s only industry and Measure T would hurt that sector.
Kerrigan said: “So, if we start to limit folks coming to our area, that just kind of decreases the income coming to all of our local businesses, and then it impacts jobs. There are managers, reservationists, cleaning companies, people that do maintenance and people that do security checks.”
She added visitors depend on the supply of short-term rentals during peak tourism periods, when hotels and motels are full. If the total number of available units were to be decreased, that would force tourists to head elsewhere.
Peggy Bourland of the Tahoe Neighbourhoods Group, which got the measure on the ballot, said jobs were an issue, but not as they were being portrayed.
Bourland said: “What we have really is a labour-shortage crisis and that is related to the fact that there are so few places to live. We have people that have found work here, but then they can’t find a place to live.”
Bourland said it was primarily a zoning issue as short-term rentals are businesses which operate in residential neighbourhoods.
She added that while the rentals are popular, they only account for a small amount of the lodging stays in the city and therefore generate little in lodging taxes, also known as a transient occupancy taxes or TOT.
Bourland said: “Interestingly enough, relative to our total lodging stays in South Lake Tahoe, [short term rentals] make up less than 14 per cent of our hotel tax collections. 86 per cent of our visitors and our TOT collection comes from our traditional lodging properties; hotels, motels, condominiums and timeshares.”
Opponents say many of the rental properties are also vacation homes for the owners, so they would most likely not turn into housing options for the job sector.
Several other tourist cities in California have enacted rules similar to Measure T through their city councils, including Anaheim, Carmel, Dana Point, Napa, Ojai, Palm Desert, San Luis Obispo and Sonoma.