Rules governing short-term rental properties in unincorporated Riverside County will go back to the Board of Supervisors following a daylong public hearing Tuesday, July 26 that underscored the conflict, emotion and economics surrounding vacation rentals.
After hours of public testimony from dozens of speakers, the board voted unanimously to wait until at least Sept. 13 before approving new regulations for rentals that have become the latest flashpoint in the tensions between making a living and living peaceably in the county’s unincorporated, rural communities.
“The goal here today is to give enforcement efforts more teeth, leveling the playing field for the operators who are doing the right thing and protecting residents from suffering the impacts created by those who have thus far chosen to not play by the rules,” Bob Magee, the county’s code enforcement chief, told supervisors.
The five supervisors delayed voting on the new rules Tuesday to give staff more time to address issues like limits on how many people can stay in rentals, how long they must stay there and where signs with rental owners’ contact information should be posted.
The board also agreed to scrap a rule requiring rentals to have inside noise meters — “I don’t believe that’s our business,” Supervisor Kevin Jeffries said — although they’d still need meters to measure outside noise.
Some of the county’s most popular tourist destinations, including Temecula Valley Wine Country and Idyllwild/Pine Cove, are unincorporated areas where the county has land-use authority. Short-term rentals also are popular with those attending the annual Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and Stagecoach Country Music Festival in Indio.
For years, residents have complained about raucous, late-night revelry, mainly on weekends, at short-term rental houses advertised on websites like AirBnb and Vrbo for guests seeking a getaway or a venue for weddings, family reunions and other events.
The parties disrupt sleep, gobble up parking and trash the neighborhood, residents argue. Other homeowners say it’s wrong to put commercial uses like short-term rentals in residential areas, while those living in rural, wildfire-prone areas worry a wildfire could lead to panic-stricken guests clogging narrow escape routes.
Rental owners registered with the county say they want to be good neighbors and don’t condone unruly guests.
But they argue the problem isn’t with them, but with unlicensed rentals that don’t follow the rules now. Imposing new rules, they argue, won’t close party houses, but stymie a fruitful sector of the local economy.
While about 1,000 rentals are currently registered, officials estimate as many as 2,000 or 3,000 operate illegally in Riverside County.
The ordinance before supervisors Tuesday requires rentals to be inspected and limits those who can stay at a rental to two guests per bedroom plus an additional guest or 10 people, whichever is less.
Rentals on at least five acres with at least five bedrooms could potentially have up to 16 guests, as could other rentals that make certain renovations.
Rentals also would need exterior signs with a 24-hour phone number to report problems.
The draft ordinance includes a “three strikes” provision that could revoke a rental’s certificate for repeat code infractions. Rentals could be fined $1,300 for their first violation, $3,000 for a second offense within a year of the first one and $5,000 for each additional offense within a year of the first citation.
Rentals also would be required to have one on-site parking space for every four occupants, and renters would have to stay for at least one night. County staff might also look at capping the number of rental licenses in wine country and Idyllwild.
More than 60 people signed up to speak Tuesday. Short-term rentals and their supporters, many of whom wore yellow shirts and described themselves as mom-and-pop-scale entrepreneurs, warned occupancy limits are arbitrary and would strangle their income while hurting tourism and small businesses like florists and handymen that serve rentals.
“We’re facing something that will devastate our business,” short-term rental owner Tom DeCarlo said. “It’s at the wrong time and it’s not justified.”
County officials said occupancy limits reflect what’s allowed by the state building code. But Jeffries said the proposed limits are “not reasonable” for “large residences (and) large estates.”
“What government employee is going to walk into the home and count how many people are in bed to see if they’re in compliance?” he asked.
Rather than punish law-abiding rentals, rental owners said the county should use existing rules to go after party houses or consider occupancy limits with more flexibility.
Some owners who spoke Tuesday opposed the sign requirement, saying outdoor signs could tell criminals a home is empty.
Neighbors and code enforcement already know how to get a hold of owners, they said. The signs are meant to ensure the owner, not a code enforcement officer or sheriff’s deputy summoned at taxpayer expense, is the first contact for problems, said Assistant County Executive Officer Charissa Leach.
The board also heard from residents who support stricter rules and worry that a tidal wave of rentals, especially those owned by out-of-town investors, pose a threat to wine country’s rural lifestyle and their peace and quiet.
Alicia Ivar, who lives in wine country, said rental guests speed on dirt roads and “kick rocks and dust on our family while we’re walking our pets.”
“Please, stand up for our residents, stand up for our kids, let us live our lives and be good citizens,” said Ivar, who counted seven rentals on a 1.2-mile stretch of road.
Supervisors differed over what, if any leniency should be given to unlicensed rentals. “There’s probably people out there that have been (running short-term rentals) and they’ve never had any complaints,” Supervisor Jeff Hewitt said.
“They weren’t aware of all this different stuff. And how we go out there and we say ‘Look, you’ve got 30 days to get into compliance … that gives them a chance (to comply) instead of us just coming and pushing them out … .”
Supervisor Chuck Washington countered: “There’s no way they didn’t know (about the rules). And they’re not paying any (transient occupancy tax). They don’t pay a license fee. They don’t really care about our community, quite honestly.”
Washington, who represents wine country, voiced support for requiring on-site owners in that area’s short-term rentals. Some speakers Tuesday said rentals with on-site owners cause fewer problems.
Residents “have to be our first priority,” Washington said. “ …. We can’t let this go on and let this destroy people’s neighborhoods and their day-to-day lives.”
Supervisor Karen Spiegel said: “My first priority is property rights issues but at the same time, public safety. (We’re) trying to take the two and meld them to where we can get to a reconciliation that’s going to be happy for most. I’m sure we’re not going to be happy for everybody.”