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With ski season in full swing, South Lake Tahoe backs delay of rental occupancy limits

The South Lake Tahoe City Council “expressed its support” for delaying restrictions on the number of people who can stay in vacation rentals, as a lawsuit over the controversial ordinance remains ongoing.

The announcement is the latest turn in a legal battle brought by a group of South Lake Tahoe property owners, who argue that Measure T — a recently approved ballot measure that would ban short-term vacation rentals in residential neighborhoods owned by non-permanent residents by 2022 — is unconstitutional and infringes on how owners manage their properties.

When approved, Measure T immediately limited the maximum occupancy of vacation rentals to two people for every bedroom, with a cap of 12 people total, just as the busy tourist season for the alpine city picked up.

“Noting the impact on previous visitor reservations, the City Council expressed its support for a continued delay in the implementation of new maximum occupancy limits while the case is pending,” read a city statement released Tuesday, after the council held a closed-door meeting on the lawsuit.

Last month, an El Dorado County judge temporarily blocked the city from enforcing Measure T for 30 days. The next hearing for the case will take place Jan. 24, at which the judge could extend the order until the case is resolved, and decide whether the case merits moving forward.

“I don’t want to be overly dramatic, but we saved Christmas for a lot of people,” Andrew Pierce, the Redwood City attorney representing the South Lake Tahoe Property Owners Group, previously told The Sacramento Bee.

Under Measure T, after 2021, the city will no longer issue permits for vacation rentals in areas outside South Lake Tahoe’s main tourism areas, with an exception: Full-time residents (people who live in the city more than half the year) will still be able to rent out homes for up to 30 days annually.

City officials estimated last year about 12 percent of the city’s housing stock is used by owners as short-term vacation rentals. Of those, 450 short-term rentals are in the tourism area, and more than 1,300 short-term rentals exist in the rest of the city.

Measure T stemmed from a grass-roots effort by local homeowners to curb disturbance issues such as parking, noise and trash throughout residential areas, exacerbated in recent years by online rental services such as Airbnb and Homeway that have increased the number of visitors.

The city estimated Measure T would cost about $4 million annually in tourist tax dollars.

Despite the announced approval of delaying restrictions on maximum occupancy, the City Council “respects the will of the voters of South Lake Tahoe” and supports the implementation of Measure T’s main provisions, according to the news release. The city has not stated whether it will defend the measure in court should it go to trial.

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Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks covers Sacramento County and the cities and suburbs beyond the capital. She’s previously worked at The New York Times and NPR, and is a former Bee intern. She graduated from UC Berkeley, where she was the managing editor of The Daily Californian.
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