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Windsor council OKs urgency moratorium on vacation rentals

The Windsor Town Council, in a 4-0 vote with one member absent, adopted an urgency moratorium Wednesday on all new short-term rentals in town.

The 45-day ban, which takes effect immediately, means Windsor will temporarily stop issuing business permits for new short-term rentals, but pending applications may still be approved.

At the onset of the pandemic, many local governments opted to pause efforts to regulate short-term rentals because of the increased need for available housing earmarked for essential workers or those most vulnerable to COVID-19.

Now that many of the safeguards established to curb the virus’ spread are no longer in effect, local governments are more than ready to consider regulations for these kinds of properties.

Windsor is the third local government this month, behind Sonoma County and the city of Santa Rosa, to put in place preliminary directives as it considers permanent regulations for vacation rentals within its jurisdiction.

On Aug. 9, Santa Rosa leaders approved emergency guidelines that set capacity limits for how many non-hosted short-term rentals can exist in the city, which joined previous rules dictating where rentals can operate, who can own such properties and how many, established noise limits, prohibited the use of rentals for events and set fire safety requirements.

Sonoma County adopted measures Aug. 2 that updated existing limits on where vacation rentals can operate and capped them in other areas, amended existing policies on the coast, while still allowing pending applications to continue through the process.

Windsor’s temporary moratorium will likely be extended to allow town staff more time to research and prepare an ordinance regulating these kinds of rentals as part of the town’s housing element. That document, which will address all types of housing in Windsor, is expected to be ready by January.

The council could have opted to place a moratorium only on corporate-owned or non-hosted (the owner does not live there) short-term rentals, but chose to approve the full moratorium.

A number of property owners — ranging from empty nesters with available space to those who specifically purchased homes to use them as investment properties — addressed Windsor council members Wednesday, either in person or via Zoom.

They also listened to complaints from angry residents, such as Louise Turner, who said they didn’t purchase their homes years ago to have their next-door neighbor’s house turned into a vacation rental.

“We are not hotels,” Turner said. “We bought our homes in good faith.”

Acknowledging a therapist’s point that trips are good for mental health, Turner then countered, “What about our mental health?”

Some residents said they’d never had a problem with a short-term rental in their neighborhoods, while others shared stories of loud gatherings around pools, visitors who would repeatedly come and go, as well as maid services that seemed to be always in and out.

Lisa Trumbley, who has lived in her home for two years, said she worried about the safety of the children playing in the neighborhood.

Property managers, some who are residents or former residents who lost their homes to wildfires, pointed out there is a difference between “amateur” and professional management.

“I’m sympathetic to homeowners who have had a bad experience with a poorly managed short-term rental,” said Dan Godino, a homeowner who said he managed several properties in the county. “Noise can be monitored... and a text sent to the guest” so they quiet down.

All council members, minus absent Council member Deb Fudge, who is on a trip out of the country, said they learned a lot from the people who spoke, as well as the dozens of emails the council received about this issue.

Council member Mike Wall said he found “a stark contrast” between short-term rentals owned by corporations and those who live in Windsor. He said he opposed “some faceless entity looking to make a profit off the backs of Windsor residents.”

Both Wall and Vice Mayor Esther Lemus said they support “more aggressive” tax collection from owners of short-term rentals.

You can reach Staff Writer Kathleen Coates at kathleen.coates@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5209.

Kathleen Coates

Windsor and Cloverdale, The Press Democrat 

As someone who grew up in a small town, I enjoy covering what's happening in Windsor and Cloverdale, which are growing in their own unique ways.  I delve into issues by getting to know people and finding out what’s going on in the community. I also pay attention to animal welfare and other issues that affect Sonoma County.

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