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County hears ordinance for short-term rentals in unincorporated areas

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An ordinance addressing short-term rentals in incorporated Washoe County encompassed by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency was introduced Tuesday as county commissioners examined feedback on various sides of the issue.

The ordinance addresses standards, permitting, parking, occupancy limits, safety and inspections, external signage, noise, trash and penalties.

Short-term rentals refer to properties often promoted as vacation rentals made available through management companies and online booking services. They are generally booked for fewer than four weeks through venues such as VRBO, also known as Vacation Rentals by Owner, and Airbnb.

Concerns that came out of previous county meetings, along with public surveys, included renters being dishonest about how many guests they were inviting. Too many people often means excess noise, lack of parking and potential safety issues.

Commissioners heard hours of public comment, predominately from those who supported restrictions on short-term rentals.

“In the past, people periodically rented our their homes and it worked. Today, due to technology, there are remote owners buying property—not to use as a second home—but to use as a year-round hotel or motel,” Sara Schmitz, an Incline Village General Improvement District trustee, told commissioners. “This is not residential use. When you reside in a neighborhood with your children, having a huge group of people show up at the house next door without any knowledge of who they are or where they’re from changes the dynamics of a neighborhood from one of tranquility to one of fear.”

On the other hand, some indicated renting their homes makes living in the Tahoe area more affordable. Also, they said tourists help the economy and rentals reduce the need for building hotels.

According to Washoe County, an estimated 12.5% of the housing stock in Incline Village and Crystal Bay are short term rentals, although numbers range between 500 and 1,200 depending on time of year. However, only 180 are registered with the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority.

The short-term rental ordinance includes the following:

  • Quiet hours will be from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. After a second confirmed noise violation, the rental must be equipped with decibel-monitoring devices with reporting capability and records available for county review.
  • Each rental must have a designated local responsible party available around the clock through a single phone number who must respond to complaints within 60 minutes of contact. Exceptions will be made for inclement weather and traffic.
  • No parking is allowed on right-of-ways and one parking space is required for every four proposed occupants. One occupant is allowed per 200 square feet, which could be limited by available on-site parking.
  • Advertising for short-term rentals is prohibited unless a valid permit has been issued. Advertisements must include the Washoe County permit number, room tax license number, maximum occupancy as allowed by the permit, number of beds, and number of parking spaces.
  • Safety minimums include requirements for adequate smoke and carbon monoxide detectors; fire extinguishers; adequate egress; well-maintained fireplaces, electrical outlets/systems, hot tubs, deck railings, etc.
  • Rentals must use wildlife-resistant carts and/or bear sheds, except in multi-family developments where associations require and enforce regular trash disposal.
A slide depicting host compliance in a section of Incline Village included in a presentation to Washoe County Commissioners on short-term rentals Feb. 23, 2021. Source: https://www.washoecounty.us/bcc/board_committees/2021/Item16_PPT_Intro1streading-final.pdf

Chad Giesinger, Washoe County planning manager, said licensing requirements will be proactively pursued, which includes scrubbing of addresses in advertisements.

“That’s a departure from our current code enforcement process, which is based on complaints only,” Giesinger said. “We heard loud and clear from the community throughout this process that the enforcement and fining process has to be very vigorous.”

Of the 12,298 calls for service fielded by the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office in 2020 in Incline Village and Crystal Bay, 1,540 were related to suspected or known short-term rentals, Giesinger said. Most were for area checks, disturbances and alarms.

A second and final reading of the ordinance is planned for March 23, which is when fine amounts for violators will be addressed. If approved then, a permit application window opens May 1 and enforcement begins Aug. 1.

The time lag is intended to allow sufficient time for creation of the permitting processes, staff training and a public information campaign. Property owners can also use the time to prepare their permit applications for submittal and review. Permits issued must be renewed annually.

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Carla O'Day
Carla O'Day
Carla has an undergraduate degree in journalism and more than 10 years experience as a daily newspaper reporter. She grew up in Jacksonville, Fla., moved to the Reno area in 2002 and wrote for the Reno Gazette-Journal for 8 years, covering a variety of topics. Prior to that, she covered local government in Fort Pierce, Fla.

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