Chino Latest San Bernardino County Jurisdiction Looking To Dampen The Impacts Of Vacation Rentals

Short-term rental units have drawn substantial regulatory attention in places around San Bernardino County traditionally considered suitable for weekend and vacation getaways in recent years, months and weeks. This week, even though the City of Chino is not thought of as a magnet for city slickers elsewhere looking for a place to get away from the stress of civilization, municipal officials there have signaled their intent to declare the proliferation of so-called Airbnb properties in that 103,416-population locale public nuisances.
In a move that some said raised constitutional concerns, the Chino City Council assigned city staff the task of drafting an ordinance which will likely be inserted into the municipal code at a later date that would potentially ban short-term rentals in the city.
Some of the impacts of homes rented out on a temporary basis are so onerous, some residents and city officials have said, that the city would be justified in action that eliminates them from certain residential neighborhoods or the city altogether. At the very least, it is being suggested, the rentals should be subject to strict regulations and restrictions.
According to Chino Deputy Director of Development Services Michael Heroux, there have been multiple untoward manifestations of antisocial behavior at some homes that are rented out on a temporary basis, including excessive noise, discharges of firearms, drug use including overdoses, theft, interpersonal violence and intractable disagreements between tenants and owners.
What is being experienced in Chino is similar to what has been going on in places such as Mt. Baldy, Joshua Tree, Wrightwood, Crestline, Cedarpines Park, Lake Gregory, Lake Arrowhead, Blue Jay, Valley of Enchantment, Cedar Glen, Sky Forest, Twin Peaks, Arrowbear, Big Bear City, Angeles Oaks, Running Springs, Green Valley Lake, Cienega Creek, Sugarloaf, Seven Oaks, Barton Flats, Zzyzx, Amboy and Trona, as well as three incorporated municipalities in San Bernardino County – Big Bear Lake, Yucca Valley, and Twentynine Palms. All of those communities, located in the more exotic areas of the county, such as in mountain resort areas, the desert area particularly around Joshua Tree National Park or the mouth of Death Valley and near the Colorado River, deal with transitory influxes of visitors on a regular basis.
At such venues, short-term rentals have proliferated as spots of convenience where cosmopolites can go for a break from the fast pace of urban life. Most of those people are simply after a relaxing and good time, and few problems ensue. Still, with others, especially when alcohol or recreational drugs are involved, the behavior of some is not as civil as their temporary neighbors would prefer them to be. In some cases, quarters that are intended for a few people or a family or two is called upon to accommodate several dozen. That brings with it issues such as noise, overburdened parking space and compliance with rudimentary laws. On rare occasions, with no warning a rave-like event manifests in a place ill-suited for it, and things can quickly rage out of hand.
In Big Bear Lake, the controlling majority on the city council has been sensitive to the financial interests of the tourist industry there and resisted placing tough restrictions on both tourists and the owners of vacation rental units. In reaction, a contingent of city residents ultimately obtained the requisite number of valid signatures of registered voters within the city to put an initiative on the upcoming November ballot calling for a limit on the number of vacation rentals in the City of Big Bear Lake. Those activists further want more vigorous regulation, including an increase in the city-imposed transitory occupancy tax – i.e., the city’s bed tax or hotel tax – from 8 percent to 12 percent.
In May, the Twentynine Palms City Council set an 8.525 percent cap on the number of the city’s housing units that can be utilized as vacation rentals. Practically, that means 500 of the city’s 5,797 housing units can be used as vacation rentals.
In Yucca Valley, where residents endured problems brought on by insensitive short-term visitors, the town government in 2017 approved an ordinance that imposes on the owners of residences rented out as vacation homes a requirement that they apply for a $270 permit every two years and pay the same taxes imposed on hotels or motels. Permit fees are used to fund the cost of the town hiring a private company to monitor the properties, enforce codes and deal with complaints relating to the properties emanating from neighbors.
Mounting concern over the impact that short term rentals throughout the county are having on nearby properties and property owners prompted the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors last month to tighten its ordinance pertaining to vacation rental units and simultaneously impose a 45-day moratorium on the approval of new permits allowing residential properties to be rented out for brief periods of time.
The county has already put in place a penalty schedule for code violations at any short-term rentals located within the unincorporated areas of the county that imposes both criminal and administrative penalties of $1,000 for the first offense, $2,000 for the second offense and $5,000 for the third offense falling within a 12-month period. Subsequent offenses within the one-year period can trigger suspension or revocation of the short-term residential rental unit permit at that location.
During a workshop held this week by the Chino City Council that was devoted to both accessible pedestrian facilities and proposed changes to the city’s policy with regard to short-term rentals, Heroux, who is listed as both the city’s development services deputy director and the lead staff member with regard to code enforcement at the Chino Police Department, floated the concept of enforcing an existing city ordinance that prohibits short-term rentals in residential zones by instituting fines for such violations, which he said could start at $250 for the first offense, ratchet up to $500 for the second offense, and escalate to $1,000 for a third offense.
Heroux suggested that the city could prevent short-term rentals from taking root in the city, at least in its residential neighborhoods, by having city staff monitor such websites as Expedia, AirBnB, and Vrbo.
The term AirBnB refers to the phenomenon of a homeowner putting an air mattress on the floor of a den or living room and then renting the room out to someone or several people staying for a night or a few days. That practice originated in the Bay Area.
While ordinances such as Chino’s barring short-term rentals exist, questions attain as to their enforceability, as differentiating between a common rental and a short-term rental can be tricky and carry with it potential constitutional implications. For that reason, those ordinances are rarely enforced.
While Heroux said that the city could augment its existing ordinance with an amendment to put the fines in place and use them as a cudgel to discourage short-term rentals, others have suggested that enforcement of other ordinances, such as ones pertaining to a ratio of no more than five people per toilet in a dwelling or others relating to the health and safety code and provisions to protect the population would prove more effective without running the risk of a legal challenge.
One issue raised is that the number of short-term rentals recognized as existing in Chino – roughly 100 located primarily in the College Park and Preserve residential districts – are detracting from the number of rental units that would otherwise be available to families during what is characterized as a housing crisis throughout California.
-Mark Gutglueck

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