Sonoma imposes moratorium on new vacation rentals
The Sonoma City Council on Monday moved to impose a moratorium on new vacation rentals, due to concerns they are eroding housing for families and putting property values out of reach.
Councilmembers unanimously agreed to halt the proliferation of the short-term rentals until they can better assess how to deal with them in the long run.
“I hear stories of families not being able to live in Sonoma,” said Councilman David Cook, echoing the concerns of colleagues that vacation rentals are eroding housing stock and destabilizing neighborhoods.
“We are in a housing crisis, some say housing emergency. I probably agree with that,” he said.
“When you talk about the welfare of the community it is about stability that actually exists,” said Mayor Laurie Gallian, who said the vacation rentals are leading to “disjointed” neighborhoods.
Short-term vacation rentals have mushroomed in recent years with the advent of websites like Airbnb and Vacation Rental By Owner. The sites provide an alternative to hotel stays for tourists while providing extra income for property owners.
But some cities intent on preserving housing stock and maintaining neighborhood integrity, such as Healdsburg and Calistoga, have gone so far as to forbid short-term rentals, generally defined as rental of a residence or room for less than 30 days.
On Monday, Sonoma City Council members heard both from people worried that vacation rentals are contributing to escalating housing prices and those who say the rentals provide a way for homeowners to make their mortgage payment.
“It’s an economic lifeline to keep our housing affordable,” said Charles Metz, a Santa Rosa man who rents out several rooms in his house and is also a member of Sonoma County Coalition of Hosts.
He said an elderly Sonoma woman who found a way to make her house payments by renting out an extra room for $75 a night was given a cease and desist order by the city and now has to sell her home.
But Jim Bohar, a vacation rental critic, said some people have multiple short-term rentals. One in his neighborhood rents for $400 a night. He estimated it is occupied 80 percent of the time and brings in more than $9,700 in rent per month.
“That drives up the costs of housing and takes rental housing off the market,” he said.
Conflicts also can arise between long-term residents and short-term guests who can arrive in large, sometimes noisy groups and can increase vehicle traffic.
“Often there are noise complaints. People come in to have a good time. Maybe they’re here for a wedding,” Planning Director David Goodison said of the typical problems that arise. “They’re here to enjoy themselves. Very regularly that can lead to complaints about nighttime noise.”
He said every housing unit is important in this market, where rents and home prices are high and it’s difficult for people to find a place to live.
There are currently 55 recognized legal vacation rentals in Sonoma, which represent roughly 1 percent of the city’s 5,645 residences.
The problem has been a long time coming. In 1999, the city became concerned that a proliferation of vacation rentals in residential neighborhoods was creating conflicts with long-term residences.