Most of you know that I serve as the President of the Sonoma County Lodging Assn and as such, over the last two years, I have been quite involved in all the discussions regarding the update of the Vacation Rental Ordinance. Collectively in the end, all parties were happy with the negotiations that took place to shape an updated ordinance that addressed several issues. We realize however, that this adjusting to the ordinance will continue to be refined as conditions change in regard to Vacation Rentals.
Now, the Board of Supervisors have indicated their intent to place a measure on November’s ballot to increase the Transient Occupancy Tax from 9% to 12%. My remarks in this particular blog, aren’t pro or con regarding the proposed increase, it’s about current compliance. I’ve been preaching for some time now, to those owners and managers of properties that are not properly registered nor collecting and submitting TOT. Let me tell you in no uncertain terms, your days are numbered.
I can assure you that the County is stepping up measures to identify those currently not complying quickly to demonstrate that everything is being done to insure the proper level of tax collection, before asking the voters to decide on an increase. I encourage you to register ASAP during what may be a grace period, as the penalties are stiff, if and when they decide to enforce the law. From $500 a day, possible imprisonment to a tax lien on your property, this is a serious matter.
I have taken the time to post below highlights from the Vacation Rental and TOT Ordinances so that you can educate yourselves on what is required including registration, proper posting notices and advertising, noise levels and the County Municipal Code pertaining to penalties regarding these ordinances.
Do yourself a favor and take the time to read these, or better yet, educate yourself on the entire Ordinances, ignorance won’t be an excuse for non-compliance. Pass this information along to anyone else you know who has a vacation rental in Sonoma County.
This is the link to the TOT Ordinance: http://sonoma-county.org/tax/tot/tot_ord.htm
TRANSIENT OCCUPANCY TAX ORDINANCE NO. 5823
“Rent” means consideration regularly charged, for the occupancy of space in a lodging valued in money, whether to be received in money, goods, labor or otherwise, including all receipts, cash, credits and property and services of any kind or nature required to be paid as part of the cost of occupancy, without any deduction therefrom whatsoever, including but not limited to any of the following:
- any and all expenses required to rent the room or lodging, including but not limited to charges such as housekeeping or cleaning fees, linens, energy charges, resort fees, and the like, whether charged all inclusively or separately;
- charges for roll-away beds
- the fair market value of lodging provided as part of a package that includes other goods or services (e.g. a room and golf package);
- consideration actually charged to the occupant for rooms sold to tour operators, meeting planners, or any other party that resells rooms (e.g. Travelocity, Expedia);
Notwithstanding the foregoing, “Rent” does not include consideration or charges received by an Operator for any of the following:
- use of banquet or meeting rooms
- occupancy of space in a lodging by a pet owned by a Transient;
- childcare services
- use of safes or other secure storage areas;
- food or meals;
- pay-per-view movies, video games, telephones, internet and the like; or
- cancellation charges.
Imposition of tax–payment of tax by transient. For the privilege of occupancy at any lodging, each transient is subject to and shall pay a tax in the amount of nine (9) percent of the rent charged. Said tax constitutes a debt owed by the transient to the county which is extinguished only by payment to the Operator or to the county. The transient shall pay the tax to the Operator of the lodging at the time the rent is paid. If the rent is paid in installments, a proportionate share of the tax shall be paid with each installment. The unpaid tax shall be due upon the transient’s ceasing to occupy space at the lodging. It is the responsibility of the Operator to collect the tax. If, for any reason, the Operator fails to collect the tax due at the time the rent is collected, the Operator becomes liable for the tax due.
Sec 12-13. Collection of tax by Operator–Advertisements of assumption of tax, etc., prohibited. Each Operator shall collect the tax imposed by this article to the same extent and at the same time as the rent is collected from every transient. The amount of tax shall be separately stated from the amount of the rent charged, and each transient shall receive a receipt for payment from the Operator. No Operator of a lodging shall advertise or state in any manner, whether directly or indirectly, that the tax or any part thereof will be assumed or absorbed by the Operator, or that it will not be added to the rent, or that, if added, any part will be refunded except in the manner provided by this article.
Sec 12-14. Registration.
The Operator shall also obtain from the Tax Collector a registration certificate to be at all times posted in a conspicuous place on the premises. Registration certificate shall, among other things, state the following:
- Name and address of the lodging
- Name of the Operator
- Name and address of owners
- Registration certificate number and date issued;
Operation without a valid registration certificate shall be a misdemeanor and shall be punishable as provided by Section 1-7 of Sonoma County Code. Each day of operation without a valid registration certificate shall be deemed to be a separate offense.
[ SONOMA COUNTY MUNICIPAL CODE ]
Section 1-7 – General penalty—Continuing violations—Violations as nuisances.
- Whenever in this code or in any other ordinance of the county or in any rule or regulation promulgated pursuant thereto, any act is prohibited or made or declared to be unlawful or an offense, or the doing of any act is required or the failure to do any act is declared to be unlawful or a misdemeanor, where no specific penalty is provided, the violation of any such provision of this code or any other ordinance, rule or regulation of the county shall be punished by a fine not exceeding five hundred dollars ($500.00) or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six (6) months, or by both such fine and imprisonment. Every day any violation of this code or any other ordinance, rule or regulation of the county shall continue shall, unless otherwise provided, constitute a separate and distinct offense.
- A continuing violation of this code, or of any license, permit or approval or of any condition of a license, permit or approval issued under the authority of this code, is a public nuisance.
SONOMA COUNTY VACATION RENTAL ORDINANCE 5908
(f) Performance Standards.
- Maximum Number of Guestrooms. Vacation rentals may have a maximum of five (5) guestrooms or sleeping rooms. Vacation rentals with more than five (5) guestrooms or sleeping rooms may only be allowed if adequate sewage disposal capacity exists and neighborhood compatibility can be demonstrated, subject to the granting of a Use Permit.
- Maximum Overnight Occupancy. Maximum overnight occupancy for vacation rentals shall be up to a maximum of two (2) persons per sleeping room or guestroom, plus two (2) additional persons per property, up to a maximum of twelve (12) persons, excluding children under three (3) years of age.
- For homes on a conditional septic system, the maximum overnight occupancy for vacation rentals shall be equal to the design load of the septic system. Vacation rentals with larger overnight occupancies may only be allowed subject to the granting of a Use Permit.
- Maximum Number of Guests and Visitors. The maximum number of total guests and visitors allowed at any time in a single vacation rental shall not exceed the maximum overnight occupancy plus six (6) additional persons per property, or eighteen (18) persons, whichever is less, excluding children under three (3) years of age. Vacation rentals with larger numbers of guests and visitors may only be allowed subject to the granting of a Use Permit. Nothwithstanding, maximum guest limits may be exceeded on the following national holidays: Easter, Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas, so long as the holiday event does not otherwise trigger the requirement for a Special or Cultural Events Permit.
- Per Parcel Limit on Number of Residences or Structures. Only a single residence, and legally established guest house meeting current standards shall be used as a vacation rental. Only one (1) tenant shall be allowed onsite at any given time: second residences or accessory structures shall not be leased, subleased, rented or sub-rented separately from the main dwelling. Parcels containing multiple residences or habitable structures may only be used as vacation rentals subject to the granting of a Use Permit, except that two residences or structures may be used when the total number of guestrooms does not exceed five (5.) Tents, yurts and RVs are not allowed as a part of a vacation rental.
- Required On-site Parking. Parking shall be provided as set forth in 26-90: one (1) on-site parking space for a vacation rental with up to two (2) guestrooms or sleeping rooms; two (2) on-site parking spaces for a three (3) or four (4) guestroom vacation rental. Larger vacation rentals must demonstrate adequate parking with a minimum of three (3) spaces. Onstreet parking may be considered.
- Noise Limits. All activities associated with the vacation rental shall meet the General Plan Noise Standards contained below. Quiet hours shall be from 10:00 p.m. to 9:00 a.m. Quiet Hours 10:00 p.m. to 9:00 a.m. L50 (30 minutes in any hour) 50 45 L25 (15 minutes in any hour) 55 50 L08 (5 minutes in any hour) 60 55 L02 (1 minute in any hour) 65 60 1 The sound level exceeded n% of the time in any hour. For example, the L50 is the value exceeded 50% of the time or 30 minutes in any hour; this is the median noise level. The L02 is the sound level exceeded 1 minute in any hour. If the ambient noise level exceeds the standards above, adjust the standard to equal the ambient level, up to a maximum of 5dBA above the standard, provided that no measurable increase (i.e. 1.5 dBA or more) shall be allowed. Reduce the applicable standards above by 5 dBA for simple tone noises, noises consisting primarily of speech or music, or for recurring impulsive noises, such as dog barking.
- Amplified Sound. Outdoor amplified sound shall not be allowed at any time associated with a vacation rental unless specifically permitted by a Cultural or Special Event Permit, or Use Permit.
- Cultural or Special Events. Occasional special events, parties, weddings or other similar activities over the maximum daytime occupancy (indoors or outdoors) may be permitted only with a Cultural or Special Event Zoning Permit up to four (4) times per year for a maximum one (1) year, or by Use Permit, except in the RR (Rural Residential) and R1 (Urban Residential) zoning districts where special events, outdoor events, lawn parties, weddings or similar activities associated with a vacation rental are not allowed at any time.
- Pets shall be secured on the property at all times. Continual nuisance barking by unattended pets is prohibited.
- Trash and Recycling Facilities. Recycling and refuse storage bins shall not be stored within public view unless in compliance with neighborhood standards.
- Septic Systems and Sewer Connections. The owner shall maintain a properly functioning septic system or sewer connection. In some cases, a per-room sewer fee may be applied.
- Transient Occupancy Tax. The vacation rental owner or authorized agent shall maintain a Transient Occupancy Tax License and remain current on all required reports and payments. Owner or authorized agent shall include the license number on all contracts or rental agreements, and in any advertising or websites.
- Designated Representative. Applicant shall provide a current 24-hour working phone number of the property owner, property manager or other designated representative to all neighbors within a 30 mile radius of the subject property boundaries, and to the Sonoma County Permit and Resource Management Department, and any change shall also be reported and noticed to neighbors within 30 days. Said property owner or designated representative must be available during the rental period within a one-hour drive of the subject property.
- Emergency Access. Any vacation rental located behind a locked gate or within a gated community shall provide gate code or a lockbox with keys (“Knox Box” or similar) for exclusive use by the Sheriff and Emergency or Fire Services Departments.
- Posting of Standards. The owner shall post these standards in a prominent place within the vacation rental and include them as part of all rental agreements. All advertising handouts, flyers, or any other information provided for vacation rentals shall conform to the approved occupancy limits and standards as stated on the vacation rental permit. Advertising may only be conducted for properties operating under a valid permit.
If you have any questions regarding the ordinances, Contact Me regarding the TOT increase article and I will be happy to help you with the knowledge I have or find the answers to questions so far unanswered.