It's been four months since South Lake Tahoe implemented stricter rules and steeper fines for its vacation home rental industry. While some residents say it's provided relief by sending a clear message to renters on the rules, others point to the negative national media attention the $1,000 fines have brought to the area.
Toward the end of 2017, City Council adopted regulations that eliminated warnings for violations, bumped fines up to $1,000 for both owner and occupant, restricted cars to paved driveways with no street parking, extended quiet hours, and required bear boxes to be installed by the end of July.
The city also increased its staff for monitoring VHRs and hired a third-party company to handle complaint calls and scan the internet for illegal operators.
Between Dec. 22 and March 31, the Community Service Officer (CSO) VHR division has received 188 notifications of alleged violations. Of those, 105 were for parking, though only 40 were deemed to be actual violations. Thirty-four were for noise complaints, of which only eight were violations. The next highest call, 17, was for unpermitted VHRs, which translated into seven violations.
Of all the calls, only 34 percent resulted in citations. To date, 51 percent of the citations have been appealed.
Since implementing the new rules, stories have emerged in national publications of vacation home renters in South Lake Tahoe receiving $1,000 fines for having their car partially parked off the paved driveway.
"You have a paper like the San Francisco Chronicle calling us the city of the $1,000 parking ticket. If you read the comment section, there are people saying 'I have my family reunion every year in South Lake Tahoe. We're not going anymore. We're going to the West Shore,'" said South Shore resident Melissa Wong, who runs a marketing company and operates a VHR. "The word is getting out that we are a town that doesn't like tourists, they are not welcome here, and the lake is just for locals. I don't think this is the message we wanted to send."
Others say the regulations — and the cap of 1,400 VHRs outside of the tourist core — are not enough.
In January, a group called Tahoe Neighborhoods Group started circulating a petition that seeks to put a question on the ballot asking voters whether VHRs in residential areas should be phased out over a three-year period.
Permanent residents, however, would be allowed to rent out their home or a unit on the same parcel for up to 30 days a year. It would not apply to VHRs within the tourist core.
Tahoe Neighborhoods Group is preparing to turn in the petition, which must have at least 1,036 signatures from registered voters in South Lake Tahoe, according to member Peggy Bourland. If the signatures are validated by the El Dorado County Elections Department, the measure would be on the ballot in November.
"For us the issue is zoning and support of neighborhoods, it's not focused on fees and fines and commercializing on neighborhoods," said Bourland. "The fees and fines are part of the way the city has chosen to mange the issue, and this seems like a Band-Aid fix."