Santa Rosa approves new limits on vacation rentals but existing operators largely protected

June 7, 2023

Council members approved a slew of changes to Santa Rosa’s existing vacation rental ordinance following a marathon eight-hour meeting.

Santa Rosa will limit the number of short-term rentals an operator can own but existing operators with more than one property will be allowed to remain in business under prior rules.

The carve-out should appease the roughly two dozen operators who own more than one rental and would be affected by the rule change. Some had threatened legal action if the council imposed regulations that would force them to stop operating.

But the city will continue a freeze on new applications for nonhosted rentals where the owner doesn’t live at the property that has been in place since last August.

That ensures the share of nonhosted rentals across the city doesn’t grow – at least for now.

The council voted 6-1 at the end of a marathon meeting that adjourned just before midnight to approve the changes.

Stricter regulations such as a blanket ban on nonhosted rentals in residential neighborhoods weren’t supported by the majority of council members.

Council member Victoria Fleming, whose northeast District 4 has one the highest concentration of rentals in the city and pushed for more restrictions, voted against the proposal.

There are 230 short-term rentals that have received a permit to operate in the city, about 75% of which are nonhosted rentals.

Santa Rosa officials first approved a framework for short-term rentals in October 2021 and last August capped the number of nonhosted rentals allowed citywide.

The contentious issue has divided the community and pitted two vocal constituencies ― neighbors of rentals, many in the city’s wealthy hillside enclaves, who have opposed the increasing number of rentals in their neighborhoods over concerns about noise and traffic and operators who have a piece of the prized Sonoma County real estate market and argue the rules put a strain on their business.

During public comment, neighbors described how the stream of visitors coming and going every weekend had disrupted the fabric of their neighborhood and was a nuisance.

Many called for a blanket ban on nonhosted rentals and said other cities in the county and Napa had taken stricter action years ago and that Santa Rosa was behind.

Rental owners and operators, on the other hand, said stricter regulations would be a blow to their operations and hinder their long-term financial planning.

The proposed limit appeared to be arbitrarily applied, they argued, and affected a small number of operators who had been operating in good faith and had made significant investments in the community under existing regulations, while also keeping others seeking to get into the business out of the market.

Many said the current ordinance was working as intended and that noise and other concerns had been minimized in the last few months with better enforcement by the city.

The council also supported limiting what type of housing can be converted into rentals, including prohibiting granny units from being rented for short stays, and beefing up policies related to outdoor lighting, trash and water conservation, among other changes.