County approves rules for short-term rentals


New regulations meant to notify neighbors of the presence of short-term rentals and inform guests of county rules were adopted by the Marin County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday after a year of consideration.  

The ordinance, which sunsets in two years, gives short-term rental owners the option of either hanging an outdoor sign while guests are in the residence or sending a letter to neighbors within 300 feet that includes a local contact number and the county’s new emergency hotline. Complaints made to the hotline will be confidential but not anonymous.

County staffers emphasized that providing neighbors with a local contact will facilitate an immediate response in the cases of noise issues, while the hotline will allow the county to gather more specific information on complaints.

Short-term rentals will also be required to leave a booklet with guests detailing county regulations regarding noise, trash, emergency access and parking. The ordinance states that typically two off-street parking spaces should be provided, but in areas with limited street parking, four off-street spaces are required.   

The ordinance will last two years, during which the county will monitor the program and collect information. It will go into effect in 30 days, and rental owners will be informed in the next business license cycle. 

“This is a first step, and the more information we can gather, the better we will be prepared to come up with an approach in the future that addresses people’s substantive concerns,” said Jeremy Teijirian, a planning manager with the Community Development Agency.

An initial proposal that supervisors considered in March would have lasted one year and required short-term rentals to post a permanent standard-issue sign year-round. It did not include the guest booklet or complaint hotline. 

The mandatory signage came under particular fire in the past, though members of the public criticized most aspects of the new ordinance at last week’s first reading, and at this week’s public

Some voiced concerns that the signs would lead to burglary, as they would indicate tourist targets or vacant houses. Others expressed their displeasure that the ordinance treats owner-occupied rentals the same as permanent guesthouses. 

“We live in the house that we rent out and no one has complained in eight years,” Elise Ganz said. “We’re the kind of people that get the short end of the stick.”

Some rental owners questioned the basis for the 300-foot radius in which neighbors must be informed. “To have a 300-foot radius rule I think is not workable and it sort of says you don’t want short-term rentals,” Ken Drisdell said. “My wife and I need the income to stay in Marin.” 

Others said that the radius would have them informing neighbors several blocks away who are not affected by the rental.

“There is nothing magical about 300 feet,” Mr. Teijirian responded. “It is a common standard throughout California.” 

Supervisors agreed that the radius could be revisited in the future with sensitivity to various landscapes in which noise might travel uniquely.

Yet others criticized the county’s contract with a private company, Host Compliance, which will collect data from short-term rentals—such as the addresses of rentals and the names of owners—in order to enforce compliance. 

At last week’s meeting, one Mill Valley resident who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation said Host Compliance “spies for a living” and that it will cost the county up to $69,000 to get information about the 1,126 rentals in Marin. 

“Do you really think Marinites want you hiring a company to spy on them? To spy on their neighbors?” he asked.

Others spoke in support of the ordinance, including Evan Wilhelm, managing director of the Bolinas Community Land Trust and Kim Thompson, executive director of CLAM. 

“The consistent message is that this measure, like the T.O.T, helps establish a much-needed balance in West Marin,” Ms. Thompson said. 

In a letter to supervisors, the Stinson Beach Village Association suggested changes to the proposal and called for an online database of all licensed short-term rentals that would include addresses and local contact person phone numbers that  would be distributed to all registered property owners.

Several board members spoke in support of such a database, but said it would take several years to build. In the meantime, Supervisor Kate Sears emphasized that the ordinance was “very much a first step” to regulating short-term rentals, and it remains “really crucial to collect data about how it’s working.”