Mary Brinton was shocked when a county code enforcement officer told her in September she was being fined $58,800 for hosting vacation guests from around the world over the last several years in the bedrooms of her four-bedroom Carmel Valley house. “I nearly dropped the phone,” she says.
Brinton, who is retired, was using income from both short-term and long-term tenants to remain in the home she’s lived in for almost 50 years. She dutifully paid transient-occupancy taxes to the county, between $3,000-$6,000 a year.
Brinton didn’t apply for a short-term rental permit from the county’s Housing and Community Development Department after members of the Monterey County Vacation Rental Alliance told her that because of the lengthy and costly permitting process of over $6,000 – with no guarantee of success – “it would be of no use trying,” Brinton says. They also told her that a provision in the current ordinance indicates the county will only go after unpermitted properties if neighbors file a nuisance complaint. In her case it wasn’t a neighbor, but a disgruntled long-term tenant.
Brinton’s situation is emblematic of a deeper issue, say MCVRA board members. They say the county has failed to create an updated short-term rental ordinance in seven years and that when the current ordinance was passed 24 years ago, permits were lumped with building permits, resulting in an overly complex process. Just 20 permits have been issued in 24 years. Opponents, notably the Carmel Valley Association, say unchecked rentals are damaging residential neighborhoods and need to be reined in.
Hundreds of unpermitted vacation rentals are now flourishing in unincorporated Monterey County, with the bulk of them in District 5, represented by Supervisor Mary Adams. After receiving constituent complaints and a critical Civil Grand Jury report, Adams asked for a pilot enforcement program that will employ a short-term rental surveillance company, Host Compliance, LLC, and possibly add a couple of code enforcement officers. The goal, she says, is to go after “the most egregious of violators” and “iron out the glitches” in the county’s process. That’s a temporary fix ahead of a new ordinance, still possibly 18 months away from completion.
Adams’ recommendation unleashed a firestorm of complaints from pro-vacation rental forces who contend the pilot program will shut down short-term rentals entirely. Dick Matthews of MCVRA says they want the county to instead focus on creating an ordinance. “The solution is to take a look at what’s wrong with the system, and if there is a bad actor take the permit away,” Matthews says – rather than going after every vacation rental in the district.
Adams disagrees that the proposed program will eliminate short-term rentals; she believes there’s a place for them as long as they’re limited.
A showdown between the two sides is expected on Wednesday, Dec. 8 when the board is scheduled to consider the pilot program.