Washoe County to consider vacation rental tweaks

By: - January 25, 2022 4:44 pm

View from the East Shore Trail of Incline Village. (Photo courtesy Pamela Tsigdinos)

Less than one year into its experiment regulating short-term rentals, Washoe County commissioners are considering proposals to allow more tenants per unit, ensure adequate parking, and require trash receptacles called ‘bear boxes’, used to secure trash from hungry bruins.  

A number of bears have been lured to vacation rentals as a result of improper garbage disposal.  

“Staff also recommends adding language requiring the proper use of a bear box and issuing a violation notice if not used properly,” says a report on STRs prepared by the county. 

Incline Village, a posh enclave in Lake Tahoe, is home to 96% of Washoe County’s roughly 800 permitted and unpermitted STRs, according to the government. 

The proposed regulatory changes are not what resident Pamela Tsigdinos and about 40 other members of the Incline Village STR Citizen Advisory Group had prioritized – a cap on STRs and a moratorium on new permits until the impacts of the vacation rentals on their neighborhoods can be assessed.

Instead, commissioners intend to allow more people to stay in each unit by basing occupancy thresholds on habitable space plus bedrooms rather than the number of bedrooms alone.

However, the property must have one designated parking space per four occupants.  

“I am astounded,” Tsigdinos said via email following Tuesday’s meeting. “The Washoe County Commissioners’ complete and total disregard for the nearly 8,000 residents of Incline Village/Crystal Bay is truly mind boggling. The fact that zero resident input was discussed is a dereliction of duty.”

Instead of listening to the public via emailed comments, commissioners heard just the names of some 26 individuals who sent messages.

“The Commissioners’ decision to eliminate Zoom access and to not allow us to call into the meetings during public comment time borders on undemocratic — particularly during a continued high COVID transmission period,” Tsigdinos wrote. 

Commissioner Bob Lucey complained the county has identified 799 short-term rentals but has permitted 467. Of those, California residents own 266, followed by Nevada residents (135) and Texans (10), according to Washoe County. Residents of other states own the remaining units.  

Lucey bemoaned the loss of room tax revenue to rogue vacation rental operators who refuse to go through the permitting process.

“If we’re not making those connections and getting that compliance, that’s 40% of that unrealized room tax that is not being collected…” he said, noting original estimates placed the number of STRs in Washoe County at 1,200. “From the initial numbers, my fears are starting to become realizations that we are driving bad actors to continue to be bad actors.”

Commissioners also discussed the possibility of increasing fees to short-term rental owners to cover the cost of regulation.

Vacation rentals in Washoe County generated $17.4 million in taxable revenue between May and November of 2021. The corresponding transient lodging tax is approximately 13%, or $2.26 million.

Lucey and Commissioner Kitty Jung suggested the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority, the primary benefactor of room tax revenue, play a role in STR permitting and tax collection.  

The commission voted unanimously to direct staff to bring the proposed changes before the board for a vote at a later meeting, but decided to hold off on a proposal to increase permitting fees.

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Dana Gentry
Dana Gentry

Dana Gentry is a native Las Vegan and award-winning investigative journalist. She is a graduate of Bishop Gorman High School and holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Gentry began her career in broadcasting as an intern at Channel 8, KLAS-TV. She later became a reporter at Channel 8, working with Las Vegas TV news legends Bob Stoldal and the late Ned Day. Gentry left her reporting job in 1985 to focus on motherhood. She returned to TV news in 2001 to launch "Face to Face with Jon Ralston" and the weekly business programs In Business Las Vegas and Vegas Inc, which she co-anchored with Jeff Gillan. Dana has four adult children, two grandsons, three dogs, three cats and a cockatoo named Casper.