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La Quinta council approves stiffer fines, other changes to its vacation rental ordinance

The La Quinta City Council approved changes to its short-term vacation rental ordinance on Tuesday, including stiffer fines and a shortened time frame in which a property owner or manager has to respond to a complaint.



a sign on a pole: La Quinta is a city in the eastern Coachella Valley.


© Jay Calderon/The Desert Sun
La Quinta is a city in the eastern Coachella Valley.

“This is not the end of upcoming recommendations” for changes to the city’s vacation rental ordinance, Community Resources Director Chris Escobedo said.

The short-term vacation rental ad hoc committee is expected to present additional recommendations on Dec. 15, he said.

“This is all designed to make the program run better and more expedient,” Kevin Meredith, code compliance supervisor, said.

Changes to the current ordinance include:

  • Hosting platforms, such as Airbnb, must verify property listings have an active short-term vacation rental permit with the city before booking rental transactions through their sites. If a permit is suspended or none is on record, the property cannot be rented. 
  • Short-term vacation rental permit renewal applications must be submitted no more than 60 and no later than 30 days before the permit expires; this would remove the current allowance for permits to be renewed up to 30 days after they expire.
  • The person(s) listed as the local contact person for the rental property must be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week with the ability to respond to the location within 30 minutes of being called by code enforcement or the sheriff’s department.
  • Bedroom additions or conversions must be verified and approved by the city to ensure compliance with city codes; the short-term vacation rental permit will be reissued to reflect the approved number of bedrooms allowed; a permit will not be renewed if a short-term vacation rental host advertises the number of bedrooms inaccurately.
  • Short-term vacation rental permit applications for properties within homeowners associations must submit a letter from the HOA stating that STVRs are allowed in the community; permits will not be issued for communities that do not allow the short-term rentals.
  • The city must be notified immediately upon a short-term vacation rental property ownership change, which will terminate the existing permit. The new owner will have to apply for a new short-term vacation rental permit, if that will be the continued use for the property.

The council also increased the fines for violations of the city’s ordinance.

General short-term vacation rental violations, including noise, occupancy and parking:

  • First violation: $1,000 (was $500)
  • Second violation: $2,000 (was $1,000)
  • Third violation: $3,000 (was $1,500)

Operating a short-term rental without a valid permit:

  • First violation: $3,000 and inability to ever get a permit for that property (was $1,000 fine with ability to still receive a permit)
  • Second and more violations: $5,000 per violation (was $1,500)

Mayor Pro Tem John Peña initially suggested fines as high as $10,000 for operating without a permit, but City Attorney Bill Ihrke advised against going that high.

“You do want to make sure that you don’t have fines become so burdensome that someone might challenge the ordinance on its face, for that amount,” Ihrke said.

Councilmember Robert Radi proposed that anyone operating without a license be fined and ineligible to receive a permit after one violation, but continue to be fined for subsequent violations.

Staff had initially recommended that owners or managers have 45 minutes to respond when called to the rental property by code enforcement or sheriff’s deputies to address a complaint.

“Forty-five minutes, I think it’s too long,” Mayor Linda Evans said, and suggested cutting that to 30 minutes.

Residents who call the hotline with a complaint have reached a point of frustration with noise and other disruptions coming from a neighboring rental property, Evans said. Having to wait another 45 minutes for someone to respond can deepen the anger, she said.

Councilmember Kathleen Fitzpatrick agreed “wholeheartedly” on the 30 minutes.

“To me, one of the biggest problems with short-term vacation rentals is people coming home and not feeling like they can live in their house, that they have to become the police officer in the neighborhood. Anything that we can do to remove that perception and/or reality is, in my book, a good thing,” Fitzpatrick said.

How we got here

La Quinta, like other cities in the Coachella Valley and elsewhere, is seeing an increase in short-term rentals — which brought a 267% rise in complaints from neighboring residents from May through July —  prompting the City Council to approve a moratorium on any new permits.

The moratorium is in place until Feb. 2 to allow an ad hoc committee of residents and property owners and managers on both sides of the issue to study the problems and draft some recommended solutions. The committee is continuing to work on those solutions, but in October presented suggestions during a study session with the council that included stiffer penalties and fines, a two-strike rule and a required workshop for potential short-term vacation owners.

Restrictions in other valley cities

La Quinta is not the only Coachella Valley city trying to rein in problem short-term vacation rentals.

The Rancho Mirage City Council on Nov. 5 adopted a ban on short-term rentals not located within neighborhoods where allowed by HOAs. That ban, affecting 121 short-term rentals, goes into effect Dec. 31. On Thursday, the council will consider a fee increase for short-term rental permits within HOAs.

On Nov. 19, Palm Desert extended its ban on short-term rentals within single-family residential neighborhoods to include homes in planned residential zoning districts where not allowed by HOAs, effective Dec. 31, 2021.

La Quinta currently has 1,295 permitted short-term vacation rentals. While the moratorium is in place, current short-term property owners can renew their permits if their properties are in good standing.

Councilmembers have said they would like to find a balance between the short-term vacation rentals, which last year brought in just under $2.9 million in transient occupancy tax revenues, and full-time residents who say the rentals disrupt their quality of life.

Resident Marcia Cutchin questioned how much the city spends on the short-term rental program for code enforcement and contracted hotline and monitoring services.

“The code enforcement office is a huge expense at close to half a million and growing and they appear to be spending most of their time dedicated to (short-term vacation rental) issues,” Cutchin wrote in a letter to the council.

“A great deal more expense appears to be buried in ‘general expenses,’” she wrote. “I respectfully ask that an entire audit of the cost of running the STVR program is established.”

Kathy Hartung was one of several residents living in the Fiesta Drive area to lodge complaints about problem vacation rentals in their neighborhood in September.

She came back on Tuesday to say the city had done a good job of addressing those complaints.

“We had a rough summer. It was very … crazy. Although things aren’t perfect now, they are a lot better,” Hartung said. “Why? Because your rules and ordinances have been enforced by your code enforcement officers.”

Three rental houses in the neighborhood have had their licenses suspended and another was found to be operating without a permit. During the suspensions, Hartung said she has noticed property improvements being made.

“So, a new tone seems to have been set. There seems to be more of a feeling of respect going on,” she said.

Still, she suggested the council consider density restrictions to control the number of vacation rentals that are allowed in each neighborhood.

“I feel if we don’t get control of the new rentals coming in, it’s going to be like a runaway train where we’re just going to get so many short-term vacation rentals that it will water down the quality of all of them,” Hartung said.

Hartung said she isn’t against short-term vacation rentals, but said there needs to compromise on both sides to create a balance that allows the rentals to exist without disrupting the quality of life of full-time residents.  

Short-term rental owner Eddie Estrada said he and a group of other vacation property owners in PGA West supported the ordinance changes.

“The language changes you are making, I think are great. You’re really sealing up these loopholes where the language isn’t very clear. Our committee went through everything and … we’re all in favor of it,” said Estrada, whose group has a website, welovelaquinta.com.

Desert Sun reporter Sherry Barkas covers the cities of La Quinta, Indian Wells, Rancho Mirage and Palm Desert. She can be reached at [email protected] or (760) 778-4694. Follow her on Twitter @TDSsherryBarkas

This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: La Quinta council approves stiffer fines, other changes to its vacation rental ordinance

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