Story Corps

Placeholder Image photo credit: Courtesy of AirBnb website
Some Sonoma County vacation rental offerings. 

Just two weeks before a ban on new vacation rentals expires, Sonoma County supervisors have voted for stricter rules, limiting where and how many more homes can legally be rented to vacationers. 

The item will now return for a second reading before the board, and if approved, would go into effect 30 days later.

Short term rentals can bring in more money than a typical monthly lease. But they're also blamed for disruptive parties, changing neighborhood dynamics and driving up rents as property owners seek higher returns using dwellings as vacation rentals.

Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, who represents the lower Russian River area and much of West Count,y says the change has been fast.

"Suddenly, we saw entire neighborhoods convert to vacation rentals, we saw people buying up multiple properties and seeing suddenly a residential use turned into quite frankly a hotel use," Hopkins said during a special meeting on April 24. 

Burgeoning vacation rentals prompted a moratorium in August, allowing officials to draft new regulations.

Addressing the board, Schellville resident Sheila O'Neill urged action.

"Recently, I had the vacation rental next to me, I texted the property manager and the owner and said, 'there's ten cars and the music has been playing all day,' 'oh, well, it's my best friend's mother's birthday,' does that make it OK?" O'Neill said.

 She says enforcement simply doesn't happen.

"Nobody in Sonoma County has ever had their vacation rental permit revoked, even the house where a shooting occurred, so there's no teeth," said O'Neill.

With Supervisor David Rabbitt abstaining, the board approved limits on the number of short term rentals in specific areas. And outright bans along parts of the lower Russian River where evacuation routes are limited, or a large proportion of housing is already short term rentals.

Supervisor James Gore says there is no other path.

"While I am always reticent to get in and regulate, the kind of situation that we have in our communities, the kind of situation I see each and every day, that all of us do, lack of housing, inability for people to live work and play here is impacting our community," Gore said.

 Any change in areas covered by the ordinance should be gradual, as the new rules don't affect permits already issued.

Last October, Sonoma County opened a hotline for complaints from annoyed neighbors of people who rent out their homes, apartments or other lodgings.

Neighbors could already complain to the home-share sites such as Airbnb or Vrbo, but the county established its own way to lodge complaints in a bid to resolve issues of noise, nuisance or other things faster than through the giant online companies.

The county went one step further by limiting one business license per person and limiting ownership of vacation rentals to "natural persons" or family trusts, so no LLCs or corporate ownerships.

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