Supervisors check out of Airbnb law for 2019

Reggie Ellis

Short-term rental ordinance will return to the Board of Supervisors with revisions sometime after the first of the year

By Reggie Ellis

TULARE COUNTY – The true measure of an effective law may lie in who is upset with it. If the answer is everyone, it’s probably a pretty reasonable rule. 

That may be the case in January when the Tulare County Board of Supervisors finally vote on a proposed ordinance regulating Airbnbs within the county. After three years of study, two years of testimony, a town hall last summer and a Planning Commission recommendation earlier this month, the Supervisors postponed any decision on the ordinance until after a few changes have been made. 

Tulare County defines short term rentals, more commonly known as Airbnbs, as any rental of a private residence for less than 30 days. 

Under the county’s proposed ordinance, all Airbnbs would be subject to pay the Transient Occupancy Tax, also known as a bed tax, a one-time permit fee of $500, and set limits on the occupancy. Airbnbs are allowed a maximum of two people per bedroom and 12 people overall overnight and an additional six guests during the day or limited to the number of parking spaces. Renters must observe quiet hours between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m., and are not allowed to have outdoor fires or hold special events, such as weddings, receptions, meetings, conferences, parties, etc. 

Robert and Sarah Jackson said their Airbnb is on their family farm and they use it to educate people in urban areas about the realities of rural life. Robert said when they started their farm stay operation six years ago, they went through all of the permitting, installed a special fire system with sprinklers and a water tank, and have been paying its transient occupancy tax (TOT), better known as a bed tax for lodgings, every quarter since obtaining the proper licensing. 

“And now you want to charge me another $500 to get a different permit?,” Robert said. “How much more do you want?”

Sarah added, “I’m about ready to say I’m not going to do this anymore.”

Lily Hart said the proposed ordinance, and similar ordinances in other counties, are orchestrated by hotel lobbyists to force Airbnbs to operate under the same rules as any short-term rental. She said any law opening up a private property owners to lawsuits for having a birthday party is going to be challenged in court.

“This is not providing a greater benefit for anyone other than the hotel industry,” she said.

Eric Sisk said the proposed regulations were to prevent guests from being bad neighbors but said that permanent renters tend to be far worse. As a landlord of 15 years, Sisk said overregulating short term rentals would mean property owners would turn to permanent rentals, which can create long term problems. He offered a scenario of “new neighbors” moving into a quiet neighborhood who begin parking in other driveways, playing loud music, and not adhering to any local rules. He said the neighbors may complain to police but they don’t stop and they know which neighbors are complaining. This forces the property to have them evicted, which can months, all the while they stop paying rent and continue to trash the house. 

“As a private property owner, this type of legislation reminds me of why I hate capital gains laws. I take all of the risk, I do all the work, I pay for all maintenance, I clean the toilets, I clean the sheets, I pay all the taxes, and insurance, when all said and done the governments sticks its hand in my pocket and takes a piece of the action,” Sisk said. “If you want to share in my success, then get down on your hands and knees with me, come over to my private property, and scrub a few toilets. If you don’t have time, then stay out of my house, stay off my property, stay out of my septic system, stay out of my well, and stay out of my bank account.”

Christine Malik agreed, saying Airbnb renters are typically respectful of the property and neighbors, something that can’t always be said of long term renters.

“I can hardly tell anyone has been there,” Malik said. “I think the only damage we’ve ever had is when someone used a facial cleanser on one of the towels. That’s the worst one.”

There was no one who spoke in favor of regulating Airbnbs more heavily but Supervisor Kuyler Crocker said it was a much different scene nearly two years ago when the county was receiving letters and emails asking for the issue of guest renters be addressed.

Supervisor Amy Shuklian agreed, “I do believe in personal property rights, but also believe those [property owners] who do not rent have rights.” Shuklian proposed lowering the permit fee in a “wait and see” approach. She said it seemed like the permit fee was the number one issue that was brought up by property owners. 

Supervisor Eddie Valero said he was “overwhelmed by restrictions set forth in the ordinance. So much so, that if I was a host, I would probably call it quits on this social enterprise.” 

Valero said he used a Airbnbs a lot while traveling as a graduate student and said it is a self-regulating industry. He pointed out that property owners who get bad reviews typically aren’t around long enough to cause a problem and that problem renters rated poorly by property owners often get blacklisted by other property owners if there is a history of misconduct. 

Supervisor Pete Vander Poel called the ordinance “fairly restrictive” and “a bit burdensome.” He said by requiring special events to have a separate permit, a family wanting to rent out a cabin for a birthday party would require the property owner to spend hundreds of dollars for a simple one-day rental. 

“I don’t know that this is ready for a thumbs up or thumbs down today,” Vander Poel said. “I would support extending it or sending it back to the planning commission.”

Crocker, chair of the Board of Supervisors, instructed staff to remove the special use restrictions, wave the fee for existing Airbnbs, reduce the permit fee for new rentals, remove the cap of 12 people per home and allow two people per bedroom, and standardize the public noticing of hearings on this and all future ordinances to 300 feet. The Resource Management Agency said it will revise the ordinance and return it to the Supervisors sometime after the first of the year.

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