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Judge blocks vacation rental restrictions in South Lake Tahoe

An El Dorado County judge has temporarily blocked a controversial South Lake Tahoe ballot measure that would have put restrictions on the number of people who could stay in vacation rentals.

On Monday, Judge Thomas A. Smith issued a temporary restraining order that prevents the city from enforcing Measure T for the next 30 days, said Andrew Pierce, a Redwood City attorney representing the South Lake Property Owners Group that sued to block the initiative in the alpine tourist city as the busy ski season gets rolling.

“I don’t want to be overly dramatic, but we saved Christmas for a lot of people,” Pierce said.

The city’s voters narrowly passed Measure T in November.

It put immediate restrictions on the numbers of people allowed to stay at many of the vacation rentals in the city, limiting them to two people for every bedroom, with a cap of 12 people total. The city can issue fines of up to $1,000.

In three years, the initiative will ban all short-term vacation rentals in neighborhoods outside downtown South Lake Tahoe.

Measure T’s backers said restrictions were necessary because hordes of short-term renters were clogging parking lots and city streets and holding raucous parties at all hours.

Pierce’s suit contends that the ban is unconstitutional because it infringes on what owners can do with their properties. Pierce said the new rules also create restrictions that make little sense.

“For example, a one-bedroom house, you could only have two people in there,” Pierce said. “A couple with a small child would have to rent a larger house, even though they could easily be accommodated.”

The city was closed Monday for the holiday, and officials couldn’t be reached for comment.

But a message posted on the city’s website before Smith issued his order said officials weren’t going to aggressively enforce the rules for the time being.

“In an effort to accommodate previous (vacation) reservations, city staff will initially use discretion in enforcing the new maximum occupancy limits if ... guests are responsible visitors and do not violate other ... regulations by causing neighborhood disturbances,” the post reads. “City staff will continue this enforcement approach on a trial basis in the coming weeks and will adjust the enforcement strategy as needed in the future.”

Pierce said a judge will decide next month whether to extend the temporary order for as long as the lawsuit is pending.

The 2021 vacation-rental ban affects more than 1,300 short-term rentals outside the commercial tourist corridor.

The city estimates Measure T will cost about $4 million annually in tourist tax dollars.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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