New Lake Tahoe vacation rental restrictions have been issued in two counties—Washoe County and Placer County. The new regulations relate to parking, fire inspections and noise. A third county, El Dorado County (home to popular winter ski and summer water-activities destination South Lake Tahoe), is implementing new restrictions on vacation-home rental permitting. Here’s what the new regulations mean for Lake Tahoe short-term-rental property owners, guests and neighbors, and what you need to do to avoid penalties and fines.
Destination Lake Tahoe
With its stunning setting on the shores of 191 square miles of pristine fresh water, Lake Tahoe is one of the country’s top destinations for adventure travel, outdoor activities and weekend getaways. Nestled in the Sierra Nevada mountains, this in-demand vacation destination straddles the border between California and Nevada, enticing visitors with its ski resorts, snowboard parks, and world-class hiking and mountain-biking trails.
Over the past several years, the area has seen significant growth in short-term rentals. Washoe County alone, which includes the popular Incline Village and Crystal Bay areas, has more than 1,200 short-term rentals available to visitors for stays of less than 30 days. In Placer County, home of Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows and Northstar California Resort ski areas, VRBO lists about 3,000 short-term rentals, ranging from cozy wood cabins to luxury chalets to contemporary condos.
While the growth in STRs has been a boon to Lake Tahoe visitors seeking more flexible accommodations than a traditional hotel or resort stay, residents have increasingly voiced complaints about parking, boisterous groups and noise. These concerns, combined with a need for more consistent tax collection, and fire safety in this heavily wooded region, have led to the new, stricter short-term-rental license and monitoring measures.
Washoe County Short-Term Vacation Rental Regulations
The small Sierra Nevada community of Incline Village in the northern part of Lake Tahoe has about 8,700 residents. But it is home to 90% of short-term rentals in Nevada’s Washoe County, which have been only moderately regulated until now.
Following two years of public outreach and planning, Washoe County representatives first presented new ordinances governing parking, “life safety” (aka fire safety) and noise, in February of this year. The new regulations were adopted in March 2021, and will be phased in over the spring and summer, allowing for any necessary changes or updates in advance of the winter 2021 ski season. The application period starts May 1, 2021; short-term-rental guidelines, tutorials and permit applications can be accessed here.
New Short Term Rental Regulations in Washoe County & North Lake Tahoe
The major components of the new Washoe County regulations that apply to North Lake Tahoe vacation rental properties include:
- Required STR Permitting: The county is granting a three-month grace period in which to obtain a permit, from application to issuance. Permit fees range from about $700 to $760 per property (a discount is applied for owners who use a licensed property manager as their responsible party). Renewals range from about $500 to $600.
- Per-parcel STR Limit: A second STR is allowed, if it is a legally permitted accessory dwelling (attached or detached).
- Guest Occupancy: A new occupancy calculation method allows for one occupant per 200 square feet of habitable space (not room-specific).
- Defensible Space Inspections: The ordinance requires inspection of fire-deterring natural or landscaped areas around the short-term rental property in Extreme or High Fire Rating zones.
- Noise Limits: A new “quiet hours” period from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. will be strictly enforced.
Fines for rental ordinance violations are steep, with a first-violation penalty of $400, a second-violation penalty of $700, and a third-violation penalty of $1,000 and potential revocation of the STR permit.
Placer County Short-Term Vacation Rental Regulations
Some of California’s best skiing and snowboarding can be found in the part of North Lake Tahoe located in Placer County. With 12 downhill resorts to choose from, along with miles of backcountry terrain, the region attracts snow-sports aficionados from all over the world.
There are approximately 3,800 STRs in the county, 3,600 of which are located above 5,000 feet elevation. These alpine accommodations are some of the area’s most desirable among visiting skiers and snowboarders. In recent years, area residents have expressed increasing concern about parties, parking and garbage associated with North Lake Tahoe vacation rental properties. At the same time, the county relies on revenue generated by these non-hotel travel accommodations. Now, like adjacent Washoe County in Nevada, California’s Placer County has tightened the reins on STRs, initiating stricter permitting, occupancy limits, trash mitigation and noise control. Placer County STR owners can apply for new short-term-rental permits and permit renewals here. Here are the main ordinance takeaways:
- Required STR Permitting: Property owners or agents must apply for and obtain the necessary permit to operate a short-term rental at elevations of 5,000 feet or above. Permits will cost about $340 for privately operated properties, and about $200 for professionally managed properties. Permit fees will help cover the annual cost of the short-term-rental program, and help pay for fire inspections by local fire departments.
- Guest Occupancy: Occupancy limits of short-term rentals allow two people per bedroom, with an additional two people allowed to stay in the house. These new limits on occupancy, which take effect at 10 p.m. daily, do not apply to children age 16 or under.
- Trash Mitigation: The new rules require Placer County STRs to provide bear bins for garbage storage.
- Noise Limits: Short-term-rental guests will be required to comply with the standards of Placer County Code Article 9.36, and the community noise equivalent levels (CNEL) of the Tahoe Basin Area Plan. Nighttime noise limits and quiet hours are imposed from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., and must be posted inside the vacation rental in a location readily visible to all guests.
While Placer County permit fees are less than in neighboring Washoe County, compliance-violation penalties are higher. A first citation penalty will run STR owners up to $500 per day, while subsequent rental ordinance violations are set at up to $1,000 per day.
El Dorado County Short-Term Vacation Rental Regulations
Sunny South Lake Tahoe is located in El Dorado County, and boasts most of the lake’s most expansive and accessible beaches, making it a prime summer vacation destination. With just over 725 permitted Lake Tahoe vacation homes currently in the region, the county is taking a fairly restrictive stance on growth. The El Dorado County Board of Supervisors recently voted to limit the number of vacation-home rental (VHR) permits to 900 in the county’s unincorporated areas, citing resident concerns. The board also noted that in the event that more than 900 permit applications are submitted, a waiting list will be created. Additional new VHR ordinance measures include:
- VHR Permitting & Taxes: Any vacation home rental found to be operating without a permit will not be permitted to obtain a permit until all past due transient occupancy taxes, penalties and interest are paid in full, and will not be allowed to apply for a vacation-home rental permit, or from being added to the waiting list, for a one-year period. The current permit fee for a new VHR application is $190.
- VHR Permit Renewals: Renewals of existing Tahoe Basin vacation home rental permits applied for on or before Nov. 1, 2020, will not be limited based on the new cap requirements. An application to renew a permit for a vacation rental must be submitted no sooner than 180 days before the expiration date of the existing permit, and no later than the date of expiration of that permit. Once the owner’s application is received, the expiration of the existing permit will be stayed until final action is taken on the renewal application. The VHR permit renewal fee is $178.
- Guest Occupancy: Children five years of age or younger are not counted towards the occupancy limits, and occupancy may be lowered if required as the result of a fire and life safety inspection.
- Noise Limits: Code enforcement is being ramped up, as the rental ordinance authorizes the Sheriff’s Office to intervene in the event a property owner violates the conditions by being the source of noise complaints, or not having the proper permits.
The penalty for a first violation offense is set at $500. If the owner is cited a second time within 18 months, that fine goes up to $750. A third violation in the 18-month window climbs to $1,000.
Own a short-term rental in the Lake Tahoe area? Make sure you’re compliant with all new rules and regulations, to avoid neighbor complaints and costly fines. You can also help protect your rental investment by vetting guests before accepting bookings, to avoid bad actors and out-of-control events. The best way to head off neighbor complaints before they happen? Equip your property with an unobtrusive, 100% privacy-safe noise detection device that measures decibel levels and notifies guests when their volume exceeds what’s allowed.