County Expands & Intensifies Short-Term Rental Rules From Mountains To The Desert

To the plaudits of some county residents and the objection of others, San Bernardino County Supervisors on Tuesday voted to initiate a host of regulations on the short term rentals of residential properties in the county’s unincorporated areas.
In essence the ordinance applies to residential units that are rented out for 30 or fewer days in San Bernardino County’s mountains and desert, Several locations in the desert have long been, and are becoming increasingly more, popular with tourists and so-called “snowbirds” fleeing harsh winter weather elsewhere in the country as well as Canada. The mountain communities have become popular weekend getaways for wealthy residents of San Diego, Orange, Los Angeles, Ventura, Riverside and lower San Bernardino counties who are looking for a “white weekend” during December, January and February.
There was a previous county ordinance relating to short term rentals in the mountains which the county instituted in 2015. In late 2018 it took up the issue once more with an eye to revamping and updating those regulations. A newly drafted form of the ordinance was considered in a public hearing by the San Bernardino County Planning Commission on August 8, 2019, and continued to September 5, 2019. At the first public hearing, numerous comments were received and the planning commission recommended that the item be continued to allow staff to address the concerns and issues raised by the public at the meeting. Staff made additional changes and provided clarification regarding issues related to accessory dwelling units, advertising, pet restrictions and record keeping. The planning commission met again on September 5 to consider the changes and clarifications made to the proposed amendments. In a 5-to-0 vote, the commission unanimously recommended that the board of supervisors adopt the ordinance. The ordinance came before the board of supervisors this week.
The action by the board of supervisors revises the regulations and extends them to include the desert area. Since the revamping of the regulations was first taken up, several changes to the proposal were made, including amendments that were tacked on by the board during its discussion before the vote on Tuesday.
By means of an ordinance amending Title 8 of the county code, applying to those sections relating to short-term residential rentals and accessory dwelling units, the board’s action created a permitting process by which property owners must register the property as being utilized for rentals on a less than continuous basis, meaning practically for thirty days or less. Those short-term rental permits are to be renewed every two years. The ordinance requires that registration of a property as a short-term rental and its permitting must take place in written or digital form before it is used for that specified purpose. The ordinance requires that registration materials and acknowledgment must be signed by the renter and kept on file during the term of the permit. The ordinance further mandates that owners of the units maintain records to document compliance with the applicable elements of the county code. The ordinance provides the county with the authority to revoke, based upon violations, a short-term rental permit. A permit revocation recorded against an owner will then entail a follow-up application fee of twice that for a permit to undo the revocation. A violation of the ordinance committed by a short-term occupant of the property accrues to the detriment of the property owner, which county officials believe will be an incentive to have the owners ensure compliance with the rules by their tenants. Tenant violation can trigger the suspension of the short-term residence permit for the unit in which that tenant is staying.
In most, though not all cases, short-term rental units are ones owned by so-called absentee landlords, that is, ones that are not occupied by the owners and are not proximate or co-located to the domicile of the owners. In a minority of cases, the properties in question involve accessory dwelling units, those being ones that are located on a property on which the owner resides or on which another long term residential unit exists.
While generally the ordinance, in the case of desert properties, is creating regulations that previously did not exist and in the case of mountain properties is tightening existing restrictions, in one respect the new ordinance is liberalizing the county policy.  At present, on properties containing both a primary residence and an accessory dwelling unit, which can be variously referred to as a guest house or a granny flat, only one of the units can be made available as a short-term rental. The language of the ordinance considered by the board on Tuesday called for dispensing with a restriction that called for accessory dwelling units being rented for a term of 30 days or longer, which had precluded accessory dwelling units from being utilized as short-term rentals. The new language allows accessory dwelling units to be rented on a short-term basis in both the mountain and desert regions, provided that one or more of the units on the parcel is occupied by the property owner or his or her agent. At Third District Supervisor Dawn Rowe’s suggestion, the board altered that language to allow both accessory dwelling units and the primary residence on a property to serve as short-term rental units as long as the property is two acres or larger.
The new regulation calls for the units rented to have placards, signs or notices that provide the renters with county standards for the rentals in writing, including the phone number for the county’s 24/7 short-term rental complaint line.
The ordinance requires that the owners of short-term rental properties arrange to have trash service for each of the rental units. This is of some concern to many property owners, as the trash service is a windfall to the trash hauling companies with franchises in the applicable areas. In many cases, the rental units will be vacant for months during the year. Nevertheless, the owners of the units will need to pay for trash pick-up when no refuse is being generated on the properties. Trash franchisees are among the heftiest of contributors to the supervisors’ political war chests.
The ordinance provides for more variegated maximum occupancy standards than were previously contained in the county’s prior regulations, such that the three categories of short-term rental units have been increased to seven, with 20 persons being the maximum. Parking standards were expanded to provide clarification that vehicles of renters shall be parked on the property of the short-term residential rental unit. These latter elements of the code revision appears to be angled toward preventing the units from serving as a hosting ground for parties or extremely large social gatherings with scores of people or even hundreds in attendance. Moreover, road and street widths in many mountain communities are narrow, and the proliferation of cars parked at certain junctures along them has created circumstances in which the streets or roads become impassable.
The ordinance added a prohibition of outdoor fires in the mountain region, that the interior and exterior of a short-term unit be kept free of hazardous materials, and a requirement that spas/hot tubs be covered and locked when not in use and that the spas or tubs be maintained in sanitary conditions.
A somewhat controversial element of the ordinance is that the ordinance provides the county with the power to issue and serve an administrative subpoena to obtain specific information regarding short-term rentals.
The sheer numbers of short-term rentals have increased substantially in the mountain and desert communities. In neighborhoods of some communities, including Mt. Baldy, Big Bear, Lake Arrowhead, Lake Gregory, Crestline, Joshua Tree and Yucca Valley, tourist activity has mounted during certain periods. Depending on the location, a property owner can rent out a property to one or more occupants on four weekends and make two to three times the amount of money that could be made renting the property on a long-term basis over a comparable one-month period. This has created “transitory neighborhoods” in which homeowners who live on their property are at times surrounded by homes or cabins which are owned by investors and occupied by “neighbors” who are not in place long enough so their acquaintance can be made by the actual inhabitants of those districts.
While the permanent residents of these areas were supportive of the county’s efforts at regulating the short-term rental market, the rules put in place hold little promise of undoing the transitory nature of the districts in question. Conversely, some San Bernardino County property owners in these districts no longer value their mountain or desert properties as their own domiciles but are using the residences they have there as a means of generating income by renting them out at a relatively high rate for short periods of time, essentially converting their units into hotels. They resent the governmental interference in their property ownership and the fashion in which they are utilizing it.
Supervisor Dawn Rowe, more than any of her colleagues, appeared focused on reducing the new ordinance’s restrictions such that the county’s interference in the operation of short-term rentals was as unobtrusive as possible. She requested, and her board colleagues went along with, for example, dispensing with the requirement that short-term rental owners post evacuation maps on the back of every bedroom door as long as one such map was in place on the rental unit’s main door.
The rules adopted Tuesday apply only to permanent structures that are utilized as short-term rental units and accessory dwelling units, including stand alone homes, cabins, guesthouses and casitas.
The board is to consider more specialized restrictions with regard to trailers, yurts and teepees at some future date.
The ordinance is due for a confirming vote, referred to as a second reading, at the board’s November 19 meeting. The ordinance will go into effect 30 days hence, putting it in place as of December 18, time for the peak Christmas-to-New Year occupancy period in the mountain communities.
-Mark Gutglueck

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