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Short-term rental hearing packs Highlands fire station

By CHRIS COUNTS

Published: October 25, 2013

OFFERING A wide range of views on a subject that has divided neighborhoods, nearly 100 people filled up the Carmel Highlands Fire Station Community Room Oct. 23 to talk about short-term rentals.

Moderated by John Ford, a management analyst for the Monterey County Planning Department, the discussion focused on short-term rentals in the Carmel Highlands, Carmel Valley and unincorporated parts of the Monterey Peninsula.

Because the regulations in Monterey County are unclear about short-term rentals, officials have pledged to decide if they should be regulated or prohibited, and they’re seeking feedback from the public before making a decision.

Some residents complained about the negative impacts of short-term rentals. “We had an absolutely horrible experience with short-term renters,” one man said. “We hardly had any sleep for months, and the absentee owners were openly hostile.”

Others, meanwhile, extolled the virtues of short-term rentals. “I’ve had a short-term rental for years,” another man said. “I’ve met wonderful people and never had problems.”

Some said short-term rentals are a nuisance to neighbors as well as a safety hazard, while others said they provide a much-needed service and raise revenue for the county.

A woman who opposed short-term rentals conceded some owners do a very good job of respecting their neighbors, while a man who supported the practice admitted some owners engaged in the business are disrespectful to those who live near them.

Several speakers blamed the bulk of the problems associated with short-term renters on absentee property owners — and one speaker suggested the practice should be limited to landlords who either live onsite or close enough to respond to problems that might arise.

One woman who offers short-term rentals said many of the problems associated with them can be alleviated with strict rental agreements and large deposits.

Another woman insisted long-term renters are capable of creating problems as well. “I have a neighbor [who rents long-term] with four screaming kids and there’s nothing I can do about it,” she said.

While some commented on the pros and cons of short- term rentals, others — seemingly resigned to the idea of a compromise — suggested that guidelines be put in place. Others questioned how such guidelines could ever be enforced.

“I know someone who had great difficulty getting the sheriff to come out when she had a problem with noise” created by a short term renter, a woman said. “The sheriff is overloaded with work.”

One man suggested the transient occupancy tax be raised to help pay for better enforcement of the industry, while a woman countered that increasing fines could accomplish the same task.

Among the suggestions people offered to better regulate short-term rentals include enacting a three strikes rule to encourage owners to play by the rules and prohibiting stays of shorter than seven days.

While some want the county to prohibit or regulate short- term rentals, one woman said those engaged in the practice should work together to address the problems. “Collectively, we could do a lot to make sure we use good practices,” she said.

The county collects TOT from those who are willing to pay, a practice one speaker was critical of. Ford said some who rent to short-term visitors have been fined as a result of complaints, but he declined to offer specifics.

Ford said county officials haven’t made up their minds yet about short-term rentals. He explained that this week’s meeting was simply the third in a series of gatherings intended to give the public a chance to sound off on the issue. “We didn’t come here with an agenda,” Ford added.

The relatively civil tone of the meeting was noted by some, and those who stuck around for two hours until it ended gave Ford a round of applause for keeping the peace