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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 either 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 made changes to regulations in the Coastal Zone. The California Coastal Commission must certify the regulations before they go into effect. Changes in the Coastal Zone include: 

  1. Add a Vacation Rental Program to the Local Coastal Plan 
  2. Amend the Coastal Zoning Ordinance to require a Vacation Rental License for operation  
  3. Vacation Rental Licenses will be subject to performance standards for using existing residences as vacation rentals. Standards will include property managers, safety, parking, noise, and limits on the maximum number of guests allowed. 

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. 

Staff would need to return to the Board to propose any potential rezoning to create areas with caps. New cap areas would require public hearings held by the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors. 

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. 

The Countywide Moratorium on Vacation Rentals was also amended to allow applications received before May 10, 2022 to be proceessed. The standard of review for these applications will be the current regulations. 

Urgency Ordinance

Vacation Rental Urgency Ordinance

After a March 17, 2022 meeting where the Sonoma County Planning Commission made recommendations on some parts of the Vacation Rental Ordinance Update, Permit Sonoma saw a significant increase in the number of Vacation Rental Applications received.

On May 10, 2022, the Board of Supervisors voted to establish a 45-day moratorium on new vacation rental permits to prevent a spike in rental applications before a comprehensive ordinance could be brought before the board on Aug. 2, 2022. On June 13, 2022, that Urgency Ordinance was extended for one year, until May 9, 2023.

The temporary moratorium on new applications allows the Board to consider the comprehensive Vacation Rental Ordinance Update on August 2, 2022, before more permits are issued. The Board directed Permit Sonoma to place a hold on applications submitted between March 18, 2022, and May 10, 2022, to prevent approving rentals that are inconsistent with future zoning and licensing regulations. Holding applications until new vacation rental regulations are in place will create consistency for vacation rental hosts and neighbors alike.

If you applied for a Vacation Rental Permit after March 17, 2022, and have questions about your permit application, please email PRMD-VacationRentals@sonoma-county.org.

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.