MADERA COUNTY — As technology makes it easier for private homeowners to advertise their properties as short-term rentals on such websites as Airbnb and Homeaway, some residents have raised concerns about having vacation rentals in their neighborhood.
The County has therefore been addressing the language in the ordinance governing such activities in private homes, though County staff makes it clear that these types of rentals have always been legal.
“We are not making changes, we are doing a clarification,” says Deputy Director of Planning Becky Beavers. “The County has never restricted or regulated this use of single-family dwellings. There have been a lot of questions, so we are simply looking to clarify the fact that we do not have a restriction, and don’t plan on restricting this in the future.”
Yesterday at their regular meeting, the Board of Supervisors considered adding this sentence to County Ordinance 18.11.100:
“The rental of an entire single family dwelling, regardless of the tenure, length of tenancy, or purpose, is a permitted use in all residential zone districts.”
Beavers says she has researched what other counties are doing in regard to the issue of short-term rentals in private homes, and has spoken with the Planning Departments in neighboring Merced, Tulare and Fresno Counties, who have no restrictions on the practice. Her office has also reviewed practices in Sonoma, Lake Tulloch, Mono and Mariposa Counties, and Mammoth Lakes.
“Some require permits, and some don’t,” says Beavers. “But anyone operating a business in Madera County has to have a license, and that applies to short-term rentals.”
Those property owners are also required to pay the TOT (Transient Occupancy Tax).
Beavers draws a distinction between a short-term rental and a Bed & Breakfast, noting that B&B’s are required to obtain a special license and go through the approval process, allowing neighbors the opportunity to voice their objections or concerns.
B&B’s must also have an owner or manager living within the dwelling.
Beavers says that in the more than 26 years she has worked for the County, there have been complaints on only 3 short-term rentals, out of the 300 currently operating.
“We sent Code Enforcement up to those properties to investigate and determine if there were violations. In every instance the property was kept clean, vehicles were properly parked in the driveway, there were no violations issued on any of those.”
But some residents say the quiet enjoyment of their home has been disrupted by the comings and goings of people occupying homes that are not zoned to be “rented out like hotel rooms,” without regard for the sanitation, health, utility, ADA, ingress /egress, traffic control, commercial business inspections, and other things that would be required of a commercial enterprise.
Objections include loss of the protections of Megan’s Law, additional traffic, noise complaints and strangers in the neighborhood.
“I came to North Fork from Los Angeles to get away from hustle and bustle,” Cascadel Heights resident Carol Eggink told the Board. “I don’t expect to come home one day and find 15 cars parked next door, and there’s a tribe of people smoking cigarettes and doing weird things. In our area we have to worry about fire; it’s big issue for us.”
Rhonda Salisbury, Chief Executive Officer of Visit Yosemite Madera County, affirmed that this type of rental has been going on for decades.
“Because of technology like Airbnb, Homeway and VRBO, this industry has exploded,” said Salisbury. “It is a huge factor in tourism in our area, bringing in about $7 million in revenue, $605,000 in tax revenue, and $134,000 in assessments. It also allows some people who are upside down on their house value to save it from foreclosure.
“For the people opposing this, I would remind them that they live in tourism communities; these tourists are most of our bread and butter, and they are not bad people.”
Steve Welch, president and owner of Bass Lake Realty, sees short-term rentals as vital to the area’s economy and jobs base.
“We’ve been in business since the early 70s, and at that time the TOT was about $30,000. Now it’s $2.5 million, and there’s about $28 million in lodging revenue.”
Welch cited the economic benefits to retail stores, restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores, linen services, boat rentals, sightseeing, cleaning services and repair contractors such as HVAC, plumbers and electricians.
“Concerns from neighbors are understandable,” said Welch, whose company manages 62 properties. “We have safeguards in place to ensure the responsible use of homes, and property owners have a financial incentive to maintain their property in good condition.”
Welch says his company inspects, supervises maintenance, arranges repairs and keeps properties fire-safe. They also require homeowners to maintain a landline for 911, smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors and proper insurance.
“We collect deposits from tenants, which encourages respectful use,” says Welch. “We also require quiet hours from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., we reserve the right to inspect the premises at any time, don’t allow RVs to be parked in driveways or occupied, and if trash isn’t taken out on trash day or it’s excessive, our firm goes around on weekends and pick up trash.
Welch says they also have a 24-hour number to respond to complaints.
“We want to provide a good guest experience and be good neighbors. In our experience vacation rental owners do a much better job maintaining their property than do long-term renters. On the rare occasion we have an issue with short-term tenants, it’s resolved quickly because they are gone in about a week. The long-term eviction process can go on for months.”
Several residents told the Board that renting out their home, or a second dwelling on their property, is the only way they can afford to keep it.
“We bought a property that we could use as vacation rental,” said Phillip Ireland. “We need to make some money from the little cabin on our place, and technology has allowed us to do that. It’s our little bread-and-butter operation, and we’re investing money in the community, welcoming visitors from all over the world to Oakhurst, and encouraging them at every turn to be patrons of our local businesses. It floats everybody’s boat.”
While those opposed to the practice in their neighborhoods don’t dispute the economic benefits or the professional management by companies such as Bass Lake Realty and Ditton Realty, they point out that not all rentals are so well managed.
“I’m talking about the absentee landlord who has a vacation rental, and in many cases the neighbors even don’t know who they are, and there’s no phone number to contact them,” said Gary Gilbert, who urged the Board to take more time in considering other options. “Why rush to get this done? Why not consider putting a public process in place, perhaps requiring a modified conditional use permit? And let’s make sure you’re collecting all the TOT that is due. How can you be sure everyone who should be paying is doing so?”
Madera County Tax Collector Tracy Kennedy said the County hired a firm in April to check out all the online platforms that provide rental databases, do a search, and find anyone who has a home advertised in Madera County for rent.
“This has identified the parcels, and we have reviewed the list,” said Kennedy. “We’ve pulled out all the ones we have in our TOT system that are already billing and collecting, and we’ve sent out code enforcement letters to those who are not.”
The “polite” letters inform the property owners that the County has been advised they are renting out their property or a room, and they are not in compliance with local ordinances.
“We have sent out 140 letters in the last three weeks, and people are filling out their business license requests and getting set up as TOT operators,” said Kennedy. “We’re telling them how to bill, collect and remit our quarterly fees. We’re about three-quarters of the way through.”
Though residents of areas like Bass Lake are well familiar with vacation rentals and the comings and goings of short-term occupants, those in small neighborhoods like Cascadel Heights are not.
Sandy Chaille has owned her home for many years in a community that includes twenty-six homes — two of which are listed on websites as short-term rentals — and is concerned over the lack of guidelines and supervision.
“Realtors have good guidelines, but that has not been our experience in our area,” said Chaille. “The Board should take a step back and take the time to figure out what requirements they want to put into effect to make sure residents who have purchased property and supported Madera County for many years through our taxes, are protected. Put in stringent guidelines; make sure you have the police power to see that neighbors don’t have to put up with raucous behavior in the middle of the night, and be subjected to fire danger because people decide they can build a bonfire because they’re renting for the weekend.”
District 1 Supervisor Brett Frazier questioned whether communities such as Cascadel Heights could address the issue in their CC&R’s (Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions) and/ or through their Homeowners Associations, and forbid the practice if indeed that is their wish.
“Is there some way for them to police themselves?” asked Frazier. “This ordinance is overall countywide. We should be able to laser-knife these things and figure out where they can be, so areas that don’t want them, don’t have to have them.”
After hearing from the public and staff, the Board agreed to remove the words “or purpose” from the proposed language, and will vote on whether to adopt at next Tuesday’s meeting, July 18. The change would take effect 30 days from approval.
The vote was 3-0 in favor, with Supervisor Tom Wheeler abstaining. Wheeler owns a property that is rented out by his grown children, and though he said he receives none of the revenue from those rentals, he chose to recuse himself from the vote.
District 2 Supervisor David Rogers was not in attendance.