Visalia council enacts tight AirBnB rental rules

Visalia has a strict new set of short-term rental rules on the books that put the city’s AirBnB landlords on an intentionally short leash. Failure to follow the new regulations – which include a mandatory city-issued license to operate – could result in fines, removal of temporary tenants and even loss of the right to host short-term renters.

Protecting Neighborhood Integrity

Changes to the city’s zoning ordinances place tighter-than-normal controls over parking, noise, trash and other perceived nuisances generated by the latest amateur property-management fad. Created at the request of the city council and approved by its unanimous vote, the new zoning codes are a bid to protect the “sanctity” of the city’s neighborhoods.

In voicing his strong support for the new restrictions, Councilman Steve Nelsen said he has long feared short-term rentals (STRs) could become a source of “neighbor-versus-neighbor” strife and upset.

“I said at the very get-go that I believe in the sanctity of the neighborhood,” Nelsen said. “Short-term rentals kind of disrupt the sanctity of the neighborhood.”

For Councilwoman Liz Wynn, the issue is personal.

“I have some really strong feelings about this,” she said. “I have one on my block. I’m not going to complain. We’ve had one bad party. The rest of the time they’re very quiet, but it does degrade the neighborhood when you have these transient folks coming through.”

Their comments came during a final public hearing on the zoning changes held before the council on October 16. The new regulations – officially Ordinance No. 2023-11 – were also approved at the meeting. They became enforceable 30 days later.

Changes Made at Council Request

The move to change STR rules in the city came from the city council members themselves, who’ve received multiple complaints from constituents, as well as having their own negative experiences.

“That’s what this is essentially trying to do is make the loud party houses go away,” said Mayor Brian Poochigian.

Visalia resident Bruce George described the chaos in his neighborhood caused by an out-of-control AirBnB rental property.

“We have a short-term rental next to our home,” he told the council. “It’s been like a motel with a bar without a manager on site.”

Rosa Baiza, who also lives next door to an STR, said her home has been damaged repeatedly by short-term renters.

“It’s been a nightmare. This AirBnB has disturbed my life,” she said. “My property has been damaged. We are on our third lawsuit.”

Making Rental Owners Responsible

Identifying the landlord’s responsible for managing STRs is one of the main aims of the new regulations. When applying for the city license now required to operate an STR, the owner must provide a contact who will be available 24 hours a day to respond when the city calls.

And they have to be quick. STR owners or their agents have just 45 minutes to respond to calls for corrective action. Failure to act fast can lead to fines or loss of the rental license.

Responding to the city can mean more than just calling back and promising to fix a problem. If the police become involved, the designated local contact person must be on site at the STR within 45 minutes.

Members of the council think the changes they’ve already approved don’t go far enough. They’ve asked staff at the city planning office to revisit the issue in two or three months. They want a refined set of regulations with more punch.

“I would like to see something stronger on the books to follow up really quickly after this,” Wynn said. “We can’t let this get out of control.”

All-In-One Short-Term Rental Rules

Getting the changes to the city’s zoning ordinances hammered out was a months-long process. It involved input from the public, elected and appointed officials, and planning staff, generated as it bounced between multiple meetings of the city council and the planning commission.

“First and foremost, one of the leading requests from your council was to have a stand-alone ordinance,” said Josh Dan, senior city planner. “In this manner, we have a concise document found within the zoning ordinance where we can find all the regulations pertaining to the short-term rental ordinance.”

In its essence, the regulations adopted by Visalia are nearly identical to those adopted by many surrounding Valley cities. While the council tweaked the local version of the ordinance, the main requirements are intentionally consistent with similar STR laws around California.

“As a regulatory document, it just makes it easier for people,” Dan said. “When they see something somewhat similar, they can interpret it in a consistent manner.”

Operating an STR in the city now requires a business license. If an STR operator is found to be in violation of the city code, they’ll face the same administrative fee schedule the city applies in all code violation cases, Dan said.

One AirBnb per Property

As it’s written, the new code doesn’t limit the number of STRs that can operate in a single neighborhood or area of town. Changing that – along with adding some clarification – is why the city council wants to take another look at STR regulation in the near future.

“The council has asked us to come back in 60 to 90 days with something a little more, be it a cap of short-term rentals or a buffer, like distance from one another, or a (licensing) requirement being renewed,” Dan said. “We’re looking at (length of permit) periods, be it one or two years.”

Not only is the aim to limit the number of STRs in a neighborhood, the council also wants to limit STRs to one per property parcel. And the STR has to be part of the main residence.

Excluded for use as STRs are garages, tents, camper trailers and RVs. Accessory dwelling units – stand-alone outbuildings often known as “mother-in-law quarters” – are also specifically prohibited from use as an STR.

“I think they (the city council) were not wanting multiple short-term rentals on the same property,” Dan said. “It would be more like a motel than a house with multiple-use.”

Keeping the Noise Down

Many of the new STR rules are intended to keep neighborhoods quiet. Limits have been placed on the number of occupants per rental, the number of cars they can park there, when the trash has to go out and how much noise tenants can make.

Music, loudspeakers and the use of any “machine or device for the production or reproduction of any sound” is banned from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. From 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. is now “quiet time,” and renters cannot use outdoor facilities like swimming pools and ball courts during those hours.

Any use of STRs other than a place to sleep is also disallowed. STRs cannot be used as venues for gatherings, such as weddings, parties, conferences or commercial functions.

STR owners are responsible for enforcing these rules, which must be posted prominently inside the rental units. Exterior signs advertising the property as available for short-term rental are not permitted.

Permission to operate an STR will come from the city in the form of a simple permit to operate. Anyone who is denied a permit or who doesn’t agree with the permit’s limits can appeal directly to the planning commission. Those seeking a second opinion will have just 10 days from the time their application for an STR is rejected.

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