FPA Blog

Sonoma County Lower Russian River MAC
Vacation Rental Committee Report 5-7-20

by Lucy Hardcastle

Short-term rental markets from privately owned property now account for a $169 billion valuation globally. Airbnb is the most anticipated incoming IPO for 2020 with 6 million listings and $31 Billion in revenue. Despite this economic success the overarching concern across towns and cities around the world is the impact those rentals have on preserving local culture and pricing out local residents. It is those issues the Vacation Rental Committee hopes to address.


  1. To summarize some challenges short-term rentals have created within neighborhoods and create a list of recommendations to ameliorate the problems they have caused.
  2. To identify neighborhoods where exclusion zones might be in order.

Identified challenges along the lower Russian River from short-term rentals

  1. They shift scarce residential units into the lodging sector.
  2. They encourage tenant evictions.
  3. They can reduce the quality of life for neighborhood residents.
  4. Owners who don’t register or pay the Transit Occupancy Tax (TOT).
  5. Owners violate zoning or use permit ordinances with no consequence.
  6. There are limited actions neighbors feel they can take to weed out offenders.
  7. How to communicate with neighborhoods on their “rights” when neighborhood courtesies are not followed by renters.
  8. West County has limited Sheriff availability to respond to offenders.
  9. There is a persistent data gap on short-term rental “hot spots” in order to study impact.
  10. There seems to be a funding shortage to punish code violations at this time. Again, no consequence for bad actors.
  11. Parking issues when renters take coveted resident parking spots.
  12. Issues when occupancy exceeds septic capacity.
  13. Due process takes time when owners are fined or lose their permit.
  14. Some short-term rentals are taking place against the rules during the Shelter in Place mandate.


  1. Strongly consider limiting whole house conversion zones for “hosted only” listings where the owner or property manager must live on site. This could cut back on noise and numbers violations and preserve the neighborhood feel since the owner/manager would live there. Create a follow up system to catch “listing liars” and enforce code violations. Many towns in California and around the world have this restriction.
  2. Make owners pay 10 times the permit fee for defined violations.
  3. Allocate TOT funds towards the County’s code enforcement program to beef up fines and loss of permits for offenders. One employee to do enforcement full time.
  4. Allocate TOT funds to incentivize or subsidize workforce housing.
  5. Create more exclusion zones.
  6. Survey residents through an “every door mailer” to get a better picture of impact.
  7. Survey residents through Survey Monkey through Facebook and links.
  8. Create articles to be in the Gazette letting people know of their rights when a neighborhood vacation rental is disrupting their neighborhood.
  9. Better public posting of neighborhood courtesies along with parking expectations.
  10. Post regulations and suggestions to neighbors on the LRR Facebook page.
  11. It’s possible to amend the current ordinance to include the mandate from the Health Department on not renting to those living outside our area during the Covid-19 shut down? The Counsel thinks a generic addition such as “a violation of any other law or order” might work for unusual circumstances we can’t foresee. Then violation of that could amount to a “strike” against the owner.
  12. The County Counsel thought it possible to include a permanent revocation of a permit for a nuisance caused by a violation of an order from the Health Department.

Neighborhood Exclusion Zones
Exclusion zones (VREZ) are not uncommon in the County. 10 are located in the 1st District alone. VREZs allow existing permits to stand but disallows new permits from being issued. It would be informative to learn more from them on the impact they have had on neighborhoods as well as tax revenues in going forward with recommendations for the river area.

It should be noted that due to the tax revenue issue, neighborhoods must pay a mitigation fee to be excluded, which can be a stumbling block. 5th District is considering waiving that fee as a test case in the Armstrong Woods area in Guerneville. At this juncture we recommend the following:

  • Learn from the Armstrong Woods exclusion zone being considered. What steps did they take, how long did it take, what is the economic impact forecast?
  • Track data from the County to evaluate financial impact. A new computer program will help scrub the data on who is listing short-term rentals without a permit. Can it give us data on taxes paid as well?
  • Research which other neighborhoods might want an exclusion zone as well. Go through existing neighborhood organizations for feedback and utilize outreach tools mentioned above such as Facebook surveys. It would be helpful to know where clusters of short-term rentals exist.

Three Strike Penalties for the following violations

  1. Hosting an event exceeding allowable maximum occupancy.
  2. Exceeding maximum permitted occupancy not including children under 3.
  3. Noise violations or outdoor amplification.
  4. Quiet hours violation (10 pm to 7 am.)
  5. Vehicles exceeding permit.
  6. Exceeding the fire limits or having a fire during burn bans.
  7. Having unsecured pets or nuisance barking.
  8. Operation of a Vacation Rental without a certified property manager available.
  9. Failure of the owner to include limits in the agreements and online and ads.
  10. Failure to include their TOT tax certificate number in all ads, contracts and listings.
  11. Failure to maintain current transit tax status.

When an administrative citation is issued or there are verified violations a hearing officer determines the type of violations regarding either the performance standards and/or permit requirements. After three violations a permit can be revoked. At that juncture the owner can appeal within 10 days. Revocations generally last two years.

In Summary

  • People are angry their neighborhoods are being destroyed by insensitive short-term renters.
  • When there are too many short-term rental properties in any given geographic location the neighborhood loses its essence, it’s soul.
  • Short-term rentals take valuable properties off the market to families thus impacting local school populations.
  • Permit Sonoma staff are stretched thin and cannot oversee the burgeoning volume of vacation rentals to ensure owners are being responsible and following the rules.

On the other hand, the lower Russian River reaps tremendous economic value from tourism.

  • Summer month volume keeps mom and pop businesses alive throughout the year.
  • Taxes from short-term rentals can be substantial.
  • There are few choices for lodging aside from scattered sets of cabins as the river community is not particularly supportive of large hotels that don’t fit into our vision of who we are.
  • Downtrodden properties which are transformed into charming cottages for the purpose of vacation rentals can improve neighborhood property values.

Upward of 30% of housing stock has been listed as vacant. Those vacancies could be homes that have been family owned for generations used for summer outings for family and friends. Some could be summer homes rented on occasion to outsiders to supplement finances or defray upkeep costs. The housing stock most in question are the properties purchased by outside entrepreneurs who have no intention of being part of a community. Their sole purpose is to rent as much as possible to make money plain and simple.

The question remains…how much are we willing to give up our way of life for their benefit?

Board Meetings

• 1st Tuesday of mo.
• 5:30 – 7:30 PM
• Location:
Food For Thought
6550 Railroad Ave.
(Railroad Ave. parallels
Front St. in downtown)
• For more info,
Board President,
Michael Cuoio
Everyone welcome.