Nevada, Placer counties limit short-term rentals to ‘critical’ functions during coronavirus pandemic
Staff Writer/Special to The Union
As the spread of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic forces people to shelter at home and isolate from one another, the threat of the coronavirus has some city dwellers looking for a rural retreat.
At the Nevada City Inn, people from the Bay Area call in daily to inquire if their accommodations are suited to outlasting a pandemic, often looking to book for weeks or months.
But just as people are looking to escape high-density urban centers for rural desolation, short-term rental facilities have been forced to close or severely limit their businesses in order to slow the spread of the virus.
Last Tuesday, Nevada County clarified a state shelter-in-place order that restricted people’s movements to essential activities. According to Nevada County Public Health Officer Ken Cutler, that doesn’t include renting vacation spots, unless they are being used to house local homeless people or critical infrastructure workers.
“Nevada County has beautiful, rural destination towns, and the public health and safety of our community is our first priority,” Cutler said in a press release. “By clarifying the intent of the stay-at-home order we hope that people will truly stay in their place of residence and let people know that this is not the time to be traveling.”
The move has forced some Airbnb hosts to advertise their spaces as available exclusively to health care and critical infrastructure workers in order to stay open.
However, according to Alta Sierra Airbnb host Susan Gouveia, the service she provides to her six tenants — booked before the shelter-in-place order — is essential for her survival. After losing her two jobs due to the coronavirus response, her Airbnb is the only way she’s able to make her mortgage payment.
“It’s saving my ass big time because my other sources of income have been dropped,” Gouveia said. “All of that was gone overnight, so I am so grateful for the Airbnb.”
Gouveia said one renter came to stay with her specifically to get away from the coronavirus response in the Bay Area, though most of her renters are interested in nature and seclusion outside of pandemic concerns.
With a short-term rental ban in effect and no additional income sources in sight, Gouveia said she’s thankful to be able to manage so far and is happy to see everyone having a solutions-oriented attitude.
“Fortunately, everyone has been able to pay their rent and have stepped up and been super helpful,” she said. “We’ve been practicing (helping one another) for a while now. It’s like a muscle and we’ve been working it out.”
Truckee’s Town Council announced significant limitations last week on short-term rentals and vacation-based accommodations amid the coronavirus outbreak and the state-mandated stay-at-home order.
In a letter sent to lodging purveyors, the Truckee Town Council stated that short term-rental facilities may only be used to house workers performing functions critical to infrastructure or to provide quarantine facilities and housing for displaced persons who have not left their homes voluntarily. All existing reservations are to be canceled and occupants removed within 48 hours, the council announced. No new reservations should be accepted until May 23.
“We cannot close borders as some people have asked. We cannot say Truckee is for locals only,” Andy Morris, Truckee town attorney, said in a special meeting Wednesday. “We can’t force second homeowners to leave. We can’t tell people they can’t visit for the day. We simply don’t have the authority. What we can do is we’re going to try to work with people,”
Placer County Health Officer Dr. Aimee Sisson issued a similar statement urging short-term rentals to temporarily stop all commercial operations.
“Short-term rentals that are used for commercial purposes are not considered part of critical infrastructure under the governor’s order. Short-term rentals may only continue to operate for extremely limited purposes as outlined,” Sisson said in a statement provided by Placer County.
In neighboring Washoe County, Gov. Steve Sisolak has determined short-term rentals are an essential business in the state of Nevada. However, the Incline Village General Improvement District is actively discouraging visitors and commercial business by short-term rentals.
“Our visitors are an important part of our community, but sadly, to protect our community and prevent a medical crisis, we’re respectfully asking travelers to please visit when this pandemic is over,” Indra Winquest, interim general manager of Incline Village General Improvement District, said in a statement.
PETITION: PROTECT RESOURCES
These decisions come amid local concern that allowing short-term rentals to continue to operate during the statewide shelter-in-place order would encourage visitors to travel to the area and potentially overburden local health care facilities.
A petition on http://www.change.org started by Kings Beach resident Cheri Sugal asking for a temporary ban on short-term rentals in eastern Placer County had received over 3,000 signatures as of Wednesday. The petition says an influx of tourists renting short-term rentals is causing concerns regarding the availability of basic supplies and overwhelming medical resources among year-round residents.
During Wednesday’s first-ever virtual Town Council meeting, Police Chief Robert Leftwich compared the number of visitors in town currently to a typical ski weekend during winter, saying it was more than off-peak weeks but less than a holiday weekend. However, he emphasized that their research was not definitive and that data was limited.
Rental owners say that people are adhering to travel restrictions on their own, reporting many cancellations and a dramatic decline in inquiries.
Denise Macdonald d’Ambra is a longtime Truckee resident who rents her home on Airbnb. When California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued the executive order to shelter in place on March 19 she said all of her existing reservations canceled.
“It’s deader than a doorknob. No one is renting right now,” d’Ambra said. Her listing, which often sees upward of 400 views a day on Airbnb during a typical winter week, is currently stagnant. She says she has had no inquiries for bookings even looking ahead into summer.
“People who are up in arms need to chill,” she said. “No one is renting right now.”
Following Newsom’s order, local governments and tourism boards have been communicating that now is not the time to visit the Truckee-Tahoe region.
“We’ve been very proactive in every consumer-facing asset that we have in communicating that this is not the time to travel here,” said North Lake Tahoe Resort Association CEO Jeffery Hentz. “Stay home, stay healthy and when the all-clear signal is there we will be welcoming everyone back. In the meantime, we have to keep our local community safe and our resources and health care facilities balanced.”
‘WE’RE NOT BOOKING’
Prior to orders from Nevada and Placer County health departments, some property management companies had proactively shared similar messaging along with canceling existing reservations and blocking off future reservations.
“We’re not booking. We made the decision to cancel all reservations up until April 15 and we’re not making new reservations until summer. Everyone who booked has been refunded in full without penalty,” said Susan Grigoleit, of Hauserman Rental Group.
Kerry Lofy, who owns Truckee Getaway Vacation Homes, said all of his reservations have canceled and he blocked off reservations for future dates. In addition to managing properties, Lofy runs a hot tub repair business. He said that his clients, which include properties managed by Vacasa and Tahoe Luxury Properties, have all seen cancellations. Similarly, Tahoe Getaways updated its homepage to say it’s not accepting reservations at this time.
Though the issue has drawn concern, the majority of homes on the North Shore are not used short term, according to the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association CEO.
“We think we may be seeing more second homeowners coming back here to stay or check on homes,” Hentz said. “We have such a large number of second homes versus short-term rentals in the area. Four out of five homes are second homes or primary residences. Only one out of five are short-term rentals.”
“We have a few second homeowners who haven’t been able to use their home all winter,” Lofy noted. “They want to come up to check in on it and get away from the city. I don’t know how I feel about it. On the one hand, it’s their home, but on the other hand, if we have all of the second homeowners coming up here it becomes part of what we’re trying to avoid.”
Lofy and rental specialists with Hauserman Rental Group say they’re having conversations with second homeowners who want to visit their homes during the shelter in place order.
“People are taking shelter in place as an interpretation, unfortunately. We’re having personal conversations with people about why they shouldn’t come up now,” said Tiffany Semon, a rental specialist with the Hauserman Rental Group.
MAYOR: STAY MEANS STAY
For people who are already in the area, Truckee Mayor Dave Polivy says they should stay here to follow the stay-at-home order.
“At this point, the order is to shelter where you are,” Polivy said. “As long as there isn’t significant travel back and forth or people spending a few days here at a time, everybody who is in place in Truckee should stay in place in Truckee.”
Both Truckee and the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association have sent emails to all hoteliers and registered short-term rental owners in the area communicating county orders. They say the response has strongly been positive and understanding.
It’s also important to note that just because listings are active on rental websites doesn’t mean owners are accepting reservations.
“Sites such as Airbnb are showing properties as available, but nobody knows for sure if those owners are accepting paid bookings right now. Leaving our listing active is allowing us to have conversations about what shelter in place means,” Semon said.
The goal is to educate rental owners to achieve compliance, officials said. However, counties do have the authority to issue citations should rental owners refuse to comply. People can report non-compliant short-term rentals in Placer County by calling Placer County’s short term rental hotline at 530-448-8003, or by visiting http://www.hostcompliance.com/tips. In Truckee, they can email email@example.com.
To contact Staff Writer John Orona, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4229. Jenn Sheridan is a freelance writer who lives in Truckee.
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