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Regulations aimed at reining in bad behavior at vacation rentals in Santa Rosa won unanimous approval Tuesday, after elected officials altered a package of rules they hope will reduce conflict and heated incidents.

Most of the changes were aimed at shoring up definitions...such as what exactly a 'primary residence' is. And a move to prevent short term rental permits from being passed along to descendants.

Councilmembers said they wanted to assure that owners of so-called 'hosted rentals' are likely to be onsite while the property is being rented out, and not run by absentee landlords.

Several operators criticized the moves and the council. Resident Eric Fraiser, an operator who runs a pro-short term rental website, argued that many complaints are frivolous.

"People in the fourth district have had to endure an onslaught of psychological warfare. Barrage of claims about noise, parking, negative impacts to schools, home prices, community character, whatever! None of it's true, there's no there, there,"Fraiser said.

Another vacation rental owner, who identified himself only as Eric, accused the council of ginning up hatred against operators.

"We are a minority and what this ordinance and the discourse of this council does, is open us for attack and frankly, harassment. Because this issue has been so polarized, so politicized, especially by some people sitting on this council, now actually, the door for harassment is even wider," Eric said.

At the meeting's outset, vice mayor Dianna MacDonald sought to broaden penalties for operators that continually violate rules, particularly those renting out multiple units. Officials aimed to assure that a revoked permit would impact the rest of that operator's portfolio.

"If you get a third strike, you don't get to do business here anymore, on any of your properties," MacDonald said.

While a tougher approach seemed to have support of a majority, the council abandoned the effort after city attorney Sue Gallagher warned it could face legal challenges.

"The risk would be a claim of takings, how great is that risk? I can't cite a case sitting here right now, I do think it's risky, it's not how things normally run. Do I think it is absolutely prohibited? No," Gallagher said.

Going forward, those who have had a short term rental permit revoked at one location, may never legally use it as a vacation rental again.

Revocation occurs after a third verified violation. Other properties rented out for short periods by the same person, would not be affected.

Officials also moved to tighten up the city's definition of 'primary residence,'

The other major change restricts who can inherit a permit. Officials moved to only allow permits to pass to a spouse or domestic partner of an owner, not to children.


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