By Deb Murphy
Tuesday’s review of Inyo County’s short-term rental policy is a prime example of good intentions going awry.
The issue that rose to the surface of associate planner Tom Schaniel’s review of numbers and problems focused on non-hosted Airbnbs with unresolved complaints due in large part because the property owner was nowhere in sight.
Inyo’s ordinances allow for a non-hosted—with an owner or manager not under the same roof—as long as it is accompanied by a permitted hosted Airbnb. There was no requirement the hosted property had to be on or adjacent to the non-hosted property. Oops.
The good intention goes back two years when the Board of Supervisors went through the exhausting process of coming up with ordinances that would allow residents to rent out all or part of their property for less than 30 days without unwanted consequences like raucous party houses or a depletion of long-term rentals.
The Supervisors were leaning toward a requirement the rental was owner-occupied or at least on the same lot as the owner’s primary residence. A gentleman from Independence explained he owned two houses on separate but adjacent lots. He wanted to turn one into a short-term rental. The Supervisors’ solution was a requirement the owner needed a hosted permit before a non-hosted permit could be issued.
Fast forward to last Tuesday’s Board meeting. Schaniel reported there are 29 hosted and 14 non-hosted Airbnb’s scattered about in the County. Of those 29 hosted permits, 13 were pulled for the sole purpose of obtaining a non-hosted permit. The one Airbnb that resulted in a review by the Board last month was one of those non-hosted properties in an area where 20 of the 21 residents within 300-feet objected to during the Planning Commission’s Conditional Use Permit process.
Following public comment and Board discussion on the hosted/non-hosted conundrum as well as the process of neighbor notification and complaints, Schaniel said he’d come back in May with an array of options to deal with both.
Aside from those glitches, the process is working, according to Supervisor Matt Kingsley. Supervisor Dan Totheroh didn’t want the County “to throw the baby out with the bath water” in an attempt to resolve current issues. Jeff Griffiths seemed to prefer taking the non-hosted option off the table going forward.
One potential problem was the basic lack of housing in the County—would Airbnb’s take long-term rentals off the market. Schaniel’s survey indicated five permitted Airbnbs were converted from long-term rentals. Kingsley pointed out those five could not be considered low-income or affordable housing.
Chair Rick Pucci wanted to see an improved notification process that would include contact information so neighbors could log complaints or resolve minor issues before they became major issues.
Supervisor Mark Tillemans took a broader view. “This doesn’t solve the issue of people with no place to live,” he said. “Rents are going up as the inventory shrinks. There are a lot of factors in our housing issues, but we need solutions.”