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Vacation Rental Ordinance Update


Permit Sonoma is updating the County’s Vacation Rental Ordinance to prevent impacts from an over-concentration of vacation rentals and to preserve neighborhood character. On August 2, 2022, the Board of Supervisors took action to reform vacation rentals.   

The Board voted for zoning code changes will: 

  1. Prohibit new Vacation Rentals in R1-zoned neighborhoods. 
  2. Allow for establishing areas where vacation rentals are limited to 5% or 10% of single-family homes. 
  3. Require a Vacation Rental License for operation. 
  4. Create standards on nighttime hours, parking, and occupancy. The Board established a countywide Vacation Rental license program. The Board also increased fines and limiting licenses to one per individual and properties owned by natural persons or trusts. 

Changes in zoning standards, ownership requirements, and license limits are not retroactive. Until the property is sold, current permittees and Transiet Occupancy Tax (TOT) certificate holders in the Coastal Zone can continue operation consistent with the permit issued for the property. Existing TOT certificate holders in the Coastal Zone will be required to obtain a license, but new capacity and ownership standards will not apply.

Proposed Zoning Changes Expected to be Heard by Board of Supervisors April 24, 2023

Permit Sonoma recommended expedited rezoning that prioritized communities with high concentration of vacation rentals that were mapped and evaluated as part of a 2020 urgency moratorium. The Board of Supervisors adopted caps that can be found on our Online Map Viewer.

The neighborhood caps above and whether other communities not mapped in 2020 should have caps will be reexamined starting in late summer 2023. Community outreach meetings in Guerneville, Monte Rio, and Forestville that will include their surrounding communities are planned for July and August. Additional meetings in other communities will be scheduled shortly.

This gives Permit Sonoma time to seek feedback on the neighborhood level and tailor restrictions to individual neighborhoods. Feedback from those meetings will help Permit Sonoma determine if restrictions should be changed. If changes are proposed, Permit Sonoma anticipates bring them to the Planning Commission in late 2023.

Public Participation

Permit Sonoma hosted 20 stakeholder meetings between July 2021 and March 2022, including neighborhood organizations, Municipal Advisory Committees, and Vacation Rental industry organizations.

Permit Sonoma Staff has presented workshops at meetings of Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Commission, Springs Municipal Advisory Council, Lower Russian River Municipal Advisory Council, Sonoma Coast Municipal Advisory Council, Geyserville Planning Committee, The Sea Ranch Association, Mission Highlands Homeowners Association, Fitch Mountain Homeowners, and Gehricke Rd Fire Safe Council. Outreach to industry stakeholder groups included North Bay Association of Realtors, Sonoma Coast Vacation Rental Owners, Sonoma County Coalition of Hosts, and The Sea Ranch Hosting Coalition.

Topics and comments raised during public outreach include:

  1. Support for a licensing program was high among all groups, as was improved enforcement of standards. Industry groups recommended a limiting Vacation Rental licenses to no more than two or three licenses per person. Sonoma County Planning Commission Staff Report – Vacation Rental Ordinance

  2. Establishing a 24/7 customer service hotline, similar to the system used in Marin County, enjoyed near-universal support from the public and industry stakeholders.

  3. The public and industry stakeholders support better enforcement of current Vacation Rental standards. Industry stakeholders also supported creating additional performance standards for property managers.

  4. Industry stakeholders recommended streamlining and simplifying the application process.

  5. Require that guests are provided with an evacuation plan and that property managers have an active role in making sure that guests are aware of evacuation orders and have left the premises when an evacuation warning is issued.

  6. “Business License” may create problems with interpretation by homeowners associations and areas that restrict business use of homes, and identifying the license as a “Vacation Rental License” was preferred.

  7. Regulation of vacation rentals by location, proximity, concentration, and rental days in specific areas was controversial but limiting vacation rentals to less than 10% of the single-family homes within a specific area emerged as the preferred option.

  8. Consideration of relaxed standards for homes infrequently used as Vacation Rentals (“Dual Use”) was requested.

Recommendations provided during public outreach have been incorporated into the draft ordinance except Recommendation 8 “Dual Use”. In the context of public comments on this topic, Dual Use is a situation where a second home is primarily used by the owner and occasionally rented on a transient basis. Staff determined that “Dual Use” would be difficult to monitor and challenging to enforce.