Marcella Hall: Vacation rental ‘mini-motels’ in need of regulation

Posted: 11/07/2010 01:30:04 AM PST

Marcella Hall

Plain and simple — vacation rentals are businesses in residential neighborhoods. Before the Internet, people rarely rented out their houses other than weekly or monthly and certainly not by the day. Now the Internet has transformed what were formerly homes into unmanaged mini-motels.

These houses often have groups of 10 or 20 people renting for hundreds of dollars a day with new groups turning over every three or four days. That’s 20 to 40 different groups moving in and out each year and no on-site management. Would you want to live next to a home with that kind of turnover of vacationers in “party mode”? We can all testify to having to call the Sheriff’s Office many times when noise from a vacation rental went into the late night hours.

Worse yet, it’s becoming more common to be surrounded by several vacation rentals. There are now over 200 known vacation rentals in Live Oak and others in Aptos, and the number is growing. No neighborhood is immune. This is no longer a “beach house” problem. These operations have now encroached many blocks and even miles inland.

With the cost of renting one of these units often in the thousands of dollars, it takes a large group of visitors to split the cost. They come to have a good time and our neighborhoods are now paying the price. The county of Santa Cruz is finally considering an ordinance that recognizes vacation rentals in residential neighborhoods as businesses that require some controls.

We must balance vacation rental profit and the value of a good night’s sleep for neighbors who have to get up for work the next day. The proposed County Vacation Rental Ordinance does not ban these operations. It simply takes few modest steps:

Existing vacation rentals are grandfathered and may continue to operate.

New operations may be started but neighbors will be notified.

Vacation rentals need to provide a local contact person.

Neighbors will have a process to file complaints when vacation rental owners do not respect their neighbors’ rights. This avoids the need to divert Sheriff’s Office resources. Right now there is no other method to deal with problem houses.

Capitola has for many years required vacation rentals in Capitola Village to register and get a business license. It seems to work in Capitola and in more than 27 other California communities that require vacation rental registration.

Simple economics also explains why these businesses are proliferating. The weekly rent for one of these homes is often about as much as a local resident would pay for an entire month. Can local residents compete with this price escalation? This trend cannot help but further increase local housing costs.

So why is this such a difficult issue? Plain and simple — these businesses make a lot of money for the operators, many of whom live out of the county and out of state and care little about our community.

Don’t be deceived by the distortions of the opponents of the county’s proposed Vacation Rental Ordinance. It is a very small step in trying to keep many of our neighborhoods from becoming commercial strips. These operators are trying to remain uncontrolled; we are trying to protect our neighborhoods and the homes we live in.

Marcella Hall belongs to Friends of Live Oak Neighborhoods, a coalition of Live Oak residents who support the proposed vacation rental ordinance. The group may be reached at

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