Petaluma debating new rules for unofficial vacation rentals

  • Thomas Holsboer of the the Netherlands, works on programming an iPhone as a guest at Bowers family Bed and Breakfast home in Petaluma, Friday Sept. 27, 2013. Petaluma City officials want to regulate unofficial rentals in the city, including the Bowers home. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

As a city working to capitalize on its tourism charms, Petaluma doesn't want to snub potential overnight guests. But it does want its short-term lodging businesses to be legal and pay the taxes required of other accommodations.

The city passed code amendments last year that allow traditional bed-and-breakfasts to operate in residential districts, but only after approval of a use permit and other requirements to help them integrate into their neighborhoods.

Since then, only one B&B owner has applied for permission, Planning Manager Heather Hines said.

Meanwhile, there are at least 16 private, short-term vacation rentals listed on websites that cater to travelers looking for a homey getaway in the land of Butter and Eggs.

The short-term rentals, often a room or two or sometimes an entire house, don't fit into the city's current rules that regulate traditional B&Bs, hotels and boarding houses.

"It's difficult to classify these uses under the existing zoning code," Hines said.

Owners offer a service for a fee, but don't have business licenses. They don't collect the city's 10 percent transient-occupancy tax charged on nightly stays at the city's hotels, motels, bed-and-breakfasts and campgrounds.

The city collects almost $2 million a year from its official lodging operators.

Petaluma is just the latest town in Sonoma County to grapple with the thorny issue of short-term vacation rentals.

Over the past three years, the county, Healdsburg and Sonoma have fielded complaints — and sometimes police calls — of guests damaging property, hosting large events or causing noisy havoc in previously quiet environs.

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