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Study: Tahoe's Airbnb law raking in cash from $2,000 parking tickets

SF Gate logo SF Gate 4/14/2018 Mike Moffitt
a body of water with a mountain in the background: File - In this March 5, 2018 file photo, snow covers the mountain tops over looking Lake Tahoe in South Lake Tahoe, Calif. Californians close out their rainy season with the break they were hoping for, as a series of late-winter storms ease drought conditions that had been setting in again. © Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc File - In this March 5, 2018 file photo, snow covers the mountain tops over looking Lake Tahoe in South Lake Tahoe, Calif. Californians close out their rainy season with the break they were hoping for, as a series of late-winter storms ease drought conditions that had been setting in again. a group of people in a forest: Caption: "Lake Tahoe." Scenic shot of Lake Tahoe and surrounding mountains. 1927.“McCarthy Album 04, Photograph 024,” California State Archives Exhibits, accessed December 20, 2017. © Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc Caption: "Lake Tahoe." Scenic shot of Lake Tahoe and surrounding mountains. 1927.“McCarthy Album 04, Photograph 024,” California State Archives Exhibits, accessed December 20, 2017.

South Lake Tahoe's harsh new vacation home rental law was intended to crack down on the late night partying, noise disturbances and bad behavior that is supposedly plaguing the city's residential neighborhoods.

a close up of a tree: Caption: "Emerald Bay -- Lake Tahoe." Shows Fannette Island in middle of Emerald Bay, and bay's inlet, along southwestern edge of Lake Tahoe. 1927.“McCarthy Album 04, Photograph 026,” California State Archives Exhibits, accessed December 20, 2017. © Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc Caption: "Emerald Bay -- Lake Tahoe." Shows Fannette Island in middle of Emerald Bay, and bay's inlet, along southwestern edge of Lake Tahoe. 1927.“McCarthy Album 04, Photograph 026,” California State Archives Exhibits, accessed December 20, 2017.

Instead, it's mainly been used to hand out $1,000 parking tickets to mostly respectful visitors for what are often trivial offenses, according to a new Reno Gazette Journal investigation.

a close up of a tree: Caption: "Lake Tahoe." 1927.“McCarthy Album 04, Photograph 041,” California State Archives Exhibits, accessed December 20, 2017.

Caption: "Lake Tahoe." 1927.“McCarthy Album 04, Photograph 041,” California State Archives Exhibits, accessed December 20, 2017.
© Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc

The Gazette Journal looked at complaints filed against nearly 200 properties between Dec. 22 — when the ordinance took effect — and late March. It found that a little more than half of all the complaints made by callers were about parking. Sixty percent of all citations given were for parking violations, resulting in $90,000 in fines.

No Caption: c. 1935. Fannette Island is located in Emerald Bay, on the west shore of Lake Tahoe. In 1928, Mrs. Lora Josephine Knight purchased the property encompassing the head of Emerald Bay and Fannette Island. Knight had a summer home built in Scandinavian architectural style and called it Vikingsholm. The stone structure at the top of Fannette island is the "Tea House," built in 1928-1929, at the same time Vikingsholm was built.“McCarthy Album 10, Photograph 354,” California State Archives Exhibits, accessed December 20, 2017. © Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc No Caption: c. 1935. Fannette Island is located in Emerald Bay, on the west shore of Lake Tahoe. In 1928, Mrs. Lora Josephine Knight purchased the property encompassing the head of Emerald Bay and Fannette Island. Knight had a summer home built in Scandinavian architectural style and called it Vikingsholm. The stone structure at the top of Fannette island is the "Tea House," built in 1928-1929, at the same time Vikingsholm was built.“McCarthy Album 10, Photograph 354,” California State Archives Exhibits, accessed December 20, 2017.

A $1,000 parking ticket may seem outrageous, but it's actually much worse for renters who violate the ordinance. That's because the owner of the property also gets slapped with a $1,000 fine, which is then usually passed on to the renter. So each violation effectively means the renter must cough up $2,000.

As for all the partying that is destroying South Lake Tahoe's solitude, only three of 47 complaints about noise had to do with parties.

a person standing in front of a building: Caption: "Bijou Lake Tahoe," c. 1915-1920. Grace McCarthy standing in front of a small garden with the Bijou Inn in the background.“McCarthy Album 04, Photograph 199,” California State Archives Exhibits, accessed December 20, 2017. © Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc Caption: "Bijou Lake Tahoe," c. 1915-1920. Grace McCarthy standing in front of a small garden with the Bijou Inn in the background.“McCarthy Album 04, Photograph 199,” California State Archives Exhibits, accessed December 20, 2017.

MORE: These people left the Bay Area for to live the Tahoe resort life full-time

a tree with a mountain in the background: Caption: "Emerald Bay and Mount Tallac - Lake Tahoe, Calif.," c. 1935.“McCarthy Album 10, Photograph 351,” California State Archives Exhibits, accessed December 20, 2017. © Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc Caption: "Emerald Bay and Mount Tallac - Lake Tahoe, Calif.," c. 1935.“McCarthy Album 10, Photograph 351,” California State Archives Exhibits, accessed December 20, 2017.

Noise was the second-highest complaint, but just 10 of the 47 total noise complaints were found to be violations, including the three linked to partying. In the other incidents, noise levels were determined to be reasonable, the Gazette Journal reported.

a house covered in snow: Caption: "Lake Tahoe Beach." Beach scene, with William McCarthy standing on dock in 1927.“McCarthy Album 04, Photograph 035,” California State Archives Exhibits, accessed December 20, 2017. © Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc Caption: "Lake Tahoe Beach." Beach scene, with William McCarthy standing on dock in 1927.“McCarthy Album 04, Photograph 035,” California State Archives Exhibits, accessed December 20, 2017.

Here are three examples of minor parking transgressions that led to whopping fines for tourists:

— While unloading cars at a property that allowed parking for three cars, the occupants were fined $1,000 because one car was parked on the street and another was on dirt next to the driveway. The third car was in the driveway. The property owner was also fined $1,000. (Gazette Journal.)

No Caption: c. 1935, Lake Tahoe.“McCarthy Album 10, Photograph 353,” California State Archives Exhibits, accessed December 20, 2017.

No Caption: c. 1935, Lake Tahoe.“McCarthy Album 10, Photograph 353,” California State Archives Exhibits, accessed December 20, 2017.
© Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc

— A code enforcement officer responded to a neighbor's complaint about a property with too many cars, too many people and an incorrect sign. He woke a "peaceful church group" who admitted having one extra car, but there was no infraction regarding the number of occupants and signage. Nonetheless, he had to write the $1,000 citation. (Gazette Journal.)

a group of people posing for a photo: Caption: "Lake Tahoe," c. 1915-1920. William and Grace McCarthy posing for a photograph with an unidentified young woman, on a steep hillside in front of pine trees.“McCarthy Album 04, Photograph 191,” California State Archives Exhibits, accessed December 20, 2017.

Caption: "Lake Tahoe," c. 1915-1920. William and Grace McCarthy posing for a photograph with an unidentified young woman, on a steep hillside in front of pine trees.“McCarthy Album 04, Photograph 191,” California State Archives Exhibits, accessed December 20, 2017.
© Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc

— A San Jose family's Presidents Day vacation was ruined when they were fined $1,000 for having an extra car while unloading at their rental and using the bathroom. The extended family of six adults and four children had driven from the South Bay with three cars. Even though they explained they would be moving the third car after unloading it, the citation was issued. (San Francisco Chronicle.)

a motorcycle is parked in front of a house: Caption: "Al Tahoe." Grace McCarthy in driver's seat of automobile, in front of the main building of Al Tahoe Hotel. The hotel was built in 1907 by Almerin R. Sprauge. 1927.“McCarthy Album 04, Photograph 032,” California State Archives Exhibits, accessed December 20, 2017. © Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc Caption: "Al Tahoe." Grace McCarthy in driver's seat of automobile, in front of the main building of Al Tahoe Hotel. The hotel was built in 1907 by Almerin R. Sprauge. 1927.“McCarthy Album 04, Photograph 032,” California State Archives Exhibits, accessed December 20, 2017. a person standing next to a river: Caption: "Lake Tahoe.," c. 1915-1920. William and Grace McCarthy in swimsuits on a beach at Lake Tahoe.“McCarthy Album 04, Photograph 168,” California State Archives Exhibits, accessed December 20, 2017. © Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc Caption: "Lake Tahoe.," c. 1915-1920. William and Grace McCarthy in swimsuits on a beach at Lake Tahoe.“McCarthy Album 04, Photograph 168,” California State Archives Exhibits, accessed December 20, 2017.

Code enforcement officers are not permitted to give warnings, and ignorance of the law is no excuse for violations.

a screenshot of a cell phone: Caption: "Mountain Scene -- Lake Tahoe." Mountains in background, lake in foreground.“McCarthy Album 04, Photograph 021,” California State Archives Exhibits, accessed December 20, 2017. © Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc Caption: "Mountain Scene -- Lake Tahoe." Mountains in background, lake in foreground.“McCarthy Album 04, Photograph 021,” California State Archives Exhibits, accessed December 20, 2017. a close up of a tree: No Caption: A view of Emerald Bay at Lake Tahoe, c. 1935.“McCarthy Album 10, Photograph 347,” California State Archives Exhibits, accessed December 20, 2017. © Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc No Caption: A view of Emerald Bay at Lake Tahoe, c. 1935.“McCarthy Album 10, Photograph 347,” California State Archives Exhibits, accessed December 20, 2017.

MORE:A new breed of ski bum: Working for Silicon Valley, living in Tahoe

Caption: "Eagle Falls -- Lake Tahoe.," c. 1915-1920. Side view of head of Eagle Falls, near Lake Tahoe's Emerald Bay.“McCarthy Album 04, Photograph 192,” California State Archives Exhibits, accessed December 20, 2017.

Caption: "Eagle Falls -- Lake Tahoe.," c. 1915-1920. Side view of head of Eagle Falls, near Lake Tahoe's Emerald Bay.“McCarthy Album 04, Photograph 192,” California State Archives Exhibits, accessed December 20, 2017.
© Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc

Under the ordinance, vacation rental owners lose their short term-rental permit permanently if they have three violations within 24 months.

a tree in front of a building: Caption: "Tahoe Tavern." Grace McCarthy standing in front of the tavern. 1927.“McCarthy Album 04, Photograph 017,” California State Archives Exhibits, accessed December 20, 2017. © Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc Caption: "Tahoe Tavern." Grace McCarthy standing in front of the tavern. 1927.“McCarthy Album 04, Photograph 017,” California State Archives Exhibits, accessed December 20, 2017.

That's opened an avenue for informant neighbors who want to oust a vacation rental near their homes.

a group of people in front of a house: Caption: "Bijou Inn -- Lake Tahoe.," c. 1915-1920. William and Grace McCarthy standing next to automobile near Bijou Inn and store in the Lake Tahoe area.“McCarthy Album 04, Photograph 195,” California State Archives Exhibits, accessed December 20, 2017. © Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc Caption: "Bijou Inn -- Lake Tahoe.," c. 1915-1920. William and Grace McCarthy standing next to automobile near Bijou Inn and store in the Lake Tahoe area.“McCarthy Album 04, Photograph 195,” California State Archives Exhibits, accessed December 20, 2017. a person standing in front of a body of water: South Lake Tahoe's Mayor Wendy David on the shore of Lake Tahoe on Sun. March 11, 2018, in South Lake Tahoe, Calif. The City of South Lake Tahoe has a strict Vacation Home Rental Ordinance (VHR) with fines of $1,000 for violations. © Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc South Lake Tahoe's Mayor Wendy David on the shore of Lake Tahoe on Sun. March 11, 2018, in South Lake Tahoe, Calif. The City of South Lake Tahoe has a strict Vacation Home Rental Ordinance (VHR) with fines of $1,000 for violations.

"A lot of people have told us ... their (complaint) call is basically to get rid of the vacation rental that's near them," Maureen Stuhlman, vacation home-rental investigator for the South Lake Tahoe Police Department, told the Chronicle.

a house covered in snow: Caption: "Summit -- Tahoe, Placerville Highway." William and Grace McCarthy standing in front of a small wood shed, likely along what is now U.S. Route 50 east of Placerville.“McCarthy Album 04, Photograph 061,” California State Archives Exhibits, accessed December 20, 2017.

Caption: "Summit -- Tahoe, Placerville Highway." William and Grace McCarthy standing in front of a small wood shed, likely along what is now U.S. Route 50 east of Placerville.“McCarthy Album 04, Photograph 061,” California State Archives Exhibits, accessed December 20, 2017.
© Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc

But vacation home rentals are a cash cow for South Lake Tahoe, bringing in $3 million in hotel taxes each year. Mayor Wendy David said losing that money "would be devastating for our city budget."

a group of people posing for the camera: Caption: "Lake Tahoe," c. 1915-1920. Two unidentified women, the same two appearing in 96-07-08-alb04-164, wearing swimsuits, on a beach at Lake Tahoe.“McCarthy Album 04, Photograph 165,” California State Archives Exhibits, accessed December 20, 2017.

Caption: "Lake Tahoe," c. 1915-1920. Two unidentified women, the same two appearing in 96-07-08-alb04-164, wearing swimsuits, on a beach at Lake Tahoe.“McCarthy Album 04, Photograph 165,” California State Archives Exhibits, accessed December 20, 2017.
© Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc

"It would equal at least 30 employees," she said.

a person standing next to a car: Kristy Cook of Redwood City talks with South Lake Tahoe Police, community service officer and vacation house rental specialist, Louis Klingelhoffer in front of the home she and her friends rented for two nights in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., as seen on Sun. March 11, 2018. Cook said she was aware of the $1,000 fines for rental home violations because a notice was posted on the refrigerator in the home explaining the ordinance, they were not in any violation. The City of South Lake Tahoe has a strict Vacation Home Rental Ordinance (VHR) with fines of $1,000 for violations. © Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc Kristy Cook of Redwood City talks with South Lake Tahoe Police, community service officer and vacation house rental specialist, Louis Klingelhoffer in front of the home she and her friends rented for two nights in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., as seen on Sun. March 11, 2018. Cook said she was aware of the $1,000 fines for rental home violations because a notice was posted on the refrigerator in the home explaining the ordinance, they were not in any violation. The City of South Lake Tahoe has a strict Vacation Home Rental Ordinance (VHR) with fines of $1,000 for violations. an old photo of a house: Caption: "Al Tahoe." Main building of Al Tahoe Hotel, located in what is now South Lake Tahoe. The hotel was built in 1907 by Almerin R. Sprauge. 1927.“McCarthy Album 04, Photograph 031,” California State Archives Exhibits, accessed December 20, 2017. © Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc Caption: "Al Tahoe." Main building of Al Tahoe Hotel, located in what is now South Lake Tahoe. The hotel was built in 1907 by Almerin R. Sprauge. 1927.“McCarthy Album 04, Photograph 031,” California State Archives Exhibits, accessed December 20, 2017.

South Lake Tahoe's new strict rules for vacation rental homes follow:

  • Each violation results in a $1,000 fine for the guest and an additional $1,000 for the homeowner.
  • No warnings; fines issued on first offense.
  • Owner's vacation rental permit revoked after three citations within 24 months.
  • Parties and weddings are prohibited.
  • Violations subject to $2,000 (split) fine are: street parking, excessive noise anytime but especially after 10 p.m., trash outside bear box, exceeding posted occupancy and vehicle limits, hot-tub use between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m.
  • Citations can be appealed, but the full $2,000 penalty must be paid first.

Information from Chronicle reporter Carolyn Said's story "Tahoe ski town cracks down on vacation rentals: Too much tourism?" contributed to this article.

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