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Santa Rosa to consider capping number of vacation rentals, additional enforcement

Santa Rosa is poised to consider capping the number of short-term rentals that can operate in the city amid a surge of applications and steady flow of complaints from neighbors.

Under the proposed changes, the city would limit the number of permits issued for vacation rentals where the owner does not live at the property — known as non-hosted rentals — to 215 citywide and prohibit new applications once the ordinance is adopted.

Other changes would clarify that enforcement applies to both permit holders and operators grandfathered in prior to the city adopting regulations and establish an annual renewal fee.

Complaints about vacation rentals continue to pour into City Hall, which only imposed rules for parking, occupancy and noise last year — relatively late in the boom of short-term rentals in Wine Country over the past decade.

The frequency and nature of complaints and the number of permits being requested, made “clear that non-hosted (short-term rental) activities were impacting public health, welfare and safety and limiting the long-term availability of housing within the city,” Senior Planner Shari Meads wrote in a report to the council.

The City Council will consider the new emergency regulations Tuesday and, if approved, the rules would immediately go into effect. An urgency ordinance requires passage by at least five of the seven council members.

The council in October adopted a framework for short-term rentals to operate in Santa Rosa that sought to reduce fire safety risks, preserve housing stock and protect residential characteristics of neighborhoods. The ordinance regulates where rentals can operate, how many people can stay overnight, bans rentals from being used for events and requires operators to pay occupancy taxes and other fees among other requirements.

Since the rules were approved, 120 permits have been issued and nearly 150 applications are under review, with the majority being for non-hosted rentals. An outside firm last year found that as many as 358 properties were advertised on various websites prior to the city enacting rules.

Residents fed up with vacation rentals in their neighborhood have called on the city to enact stricter operating rules and act on the hundreds of complaints filed with the city.

Sonoma County acted last week in the face of similar pressure, widening areas where rentals are prohibited and capping the number of rentals in other places outside cities.

Santa Rosa staff said the proposed changes are limited in scope and more comprehensive amendments are expected next spring.

New rules seek to address increase in complaints

There have been 282 applications submitted for a short-term rental permit as of Aug. 5, according to the city. Of those:

  • Ninety-six permits have been issued for non-hosted rentals and 24 have been issued for hosted rentals.
  • Six permits have been denied, including one hosted rental that was denied because of illegal construction. The others were non-hosted rentals that were denied because of overconcentration. The city prohibits new non-hosted rentals from operating within 1,000 feet of an existing rental.
  • Eleven applications have been withdrawn.
  • The city is reviewing 101 applications for non-hosted rentals and 44 for hosted rentals.

Under the proposed changes, planning staff would cap the number of non-hosted rentals at 215 and prevent new applications from being submitted. The cap would give staff time to review and approve pending applications and provide a cushion for any new applications filed by Tuesday’s hearing, according to the city.

Just 18 additional non-hosted permits could be submitted and approved under the cap if all the applications under review are approved.

The cap would not apply to hosted short-term rentals where the property owner lives at the home or on the property.

The ordinance would also be updated to clarify that operators considered in good standing are subject to enforcement just like permit holders. Operators in good standing have registered to pay lodging taxes and have applied for a permit under the city’s short-term rental ordinance but are awaiting approval.

After three violations within a year, operators would face a fine of $2,000 and have their good standing designation revoked, meaning they would have to cease operations.

The changes would establish a process for renewing permits and an annual renewal fee of $256.

The new rules will help address an increase in complaints and violations related to non-hosted rentals operated by both permit holders and operators in good standing, Meads said.

The city has received 180 complaints since the ordinance was enacted in October, most for noise, overcrowding, parking and unpermitted rentals, according to the city.

Meads said complaints and violations have shown the potential for non-hosted rentals in particular to be a nuisance and harm neighboring property owners. They can also pose public safety hazards, she said.

Overcrowding and parking violations can impact the ability for people to safely evacuate neighborhoods during fires or other emergencies and limit emergency access if cars are lined on narrow roads. Having a revolving door of renters can also make it hard to communicate and educate people about emergencies and evacuation plans, she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Paulina Pineda at 707-521-5268 or paulina.pineda@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @paulinapineda22.

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