County rentals measure a sign of the times?

POSTED: 02/24/18, 2:03 PM PST

Publication: Marin Independent Journal: Editorial


Over the past two years, the county has been wrestling with possible regulations for short-term rentals.

Meanwhile, the popularity of rentals offered on websites such as Airbnb and VRBO is booming. Last year, a consultant involved in tracking the internet-driven rental market estimated there were 1,126 short-term rentals available across the county, not just the unincorporated area over which the supervisors hold jurisdiction.

The county hired the consultant to come up with updated numbers, but those won’t be available until next month.

The county’s dilemma, and that faced by Marin cities, has many factors. Many of the internet-generated rentals are sidestepping the rules that also apply to traditional lodging options such as hotels, motels and bed-and-breakfast inns. They aren’t facing parking requirements, they aren’t getting county business licenses and fees and, often, they aren’t paying county lodging taxes.

In addition, the money-earning power of short-term rentals has led some property owners to turn what had been affordable long-term rental opportunities into vacation rentals.

The county’s problem is it really doesn’t know how many short-term rentals it’s dealing with because Airbnb and VRBO don’t open their books. The county has hired a consultant to help come up with some details.

For some property owners, income generated by those short-term rentals is making it possible for them to afford to buy a house in Marin. Others are buying up homes because they want to turn them into vacation rentals.

But some of the rentals have generated neighborhood complaints about rowdy behavior or parking problems.

So the supervisors have decided to try to pull these rentals out of the underground economy and require them, for at least a three-month trial period, to post property-front signs, informing passersby that they are short-term rentals. The signs would include a phone number to call with inquiries or complaints.

The signs might help pinpoint the whereabouts of these rentals, but they also could be an invitation for burglars or dissuade a potential homebuyer looking at homes in the neighborhood.

The other problem, perhaps the most vexing, is that the sign law would only apply to those who are playing by the county’s rules — those that are registered.

It’s just another regulation that most of the internet rental landlords are sidestepping. Or would the signs, which county planning staff advises, help reinforce the county’s requirements?

Supervisors should answer that question before giving final approval to the sign plan.

And then what about the mixed message?

While the county is busy promoting tourism, it is also clamping down on a popular lodging choice among visitors.

Short-term rentals should play by the rules, the same that other lodging opportunities are expected to follow. Will requiring short-term rentals that are already following the rules to post signs accomplish that? Or, will the county measure have unintended consequences?

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