Members of the new Douglas County Vacation Home Rental Advisory Committee hopped in the saddle and wrangled their first two appeals on Tuesday.
The committee was appointed by Douglas County commissioners in September, along with the ordinance governing the rentals at Tahoe Township. Vacation rentals are illegal outside of the Tahoe Basin in Douglas County.
Before taking on the appeals, committee members elected Mickie Hempler chairwoman and Lauren Romaine vice chairwoman.
Committee members drew lots to determine their terms, with Michale Sloan and Hempler receiving two-year terms. Romaine, Keith Byer and Patti Graff will serve four years.
“You can’t operate without a permit in Douglas County,” Community Development Director Tom Dallaire said. “That’s the part we’re trying to enforce. It’s not the county’s responsibility to tell people when their permits are expired.”
In denying the appeals of $5,000 fines for operating without a permit, committee members mostly agreed.
One couple said they didn’t receive notice until six months after their permit had expired in July 2020.
The owners said the entire time their permit was expired they continued to receive monthly reminders to pay their transient occupancy taxes.
When they received the notice at the end of January 2021, they contacted a finance officer collecting transient occupancy taxes, who told them they “were in limbo.”
According to the permit holders that happened just before Douglas County issued a moratorium on new permits in the county. The couple’s new permit was submitted just before the moratorium went into effect.
Otherwise, that VHR owner was complying with the rules. In the other case, another owner with an expired permit advertised and rented a VHR while on the waiting list.
Sloan argued in both instances that the $5,000 fine was excessive.
“I think they made a mistake,” Sloan said of the permit holders. “But I think the county probably made some mistakes, too.”
An attempt to reduce the fine failed to win a vote, with one appeal being denied 4-1 and the other 3-2.
The county contracts with the firm HDL to handle compliance with the new rental ordinance and collect lodging taxes.
Dalliare said it appeared that HDL wasn’t communicating internally between the finance and permitting departments.
Assistant County Manager Jenifer Davidson said that after HDL started sending reminders to pay lodging taxes monthly, the payments doubled from $1.5-2 million to more than $4 million.
“We heard the same argument when we contacted people for not paying their taxes,” Davidson said. “The left hand at HDL might not be communicating with the right, but the code is clear that the obligation is on the permit holder to pay your taxes and renew your permit.”