Tahoe vacation rental lawsuit claims equal protection applies

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Attorneys in a lawsuit are arguing that revamped city of South Lake Tahoe fees and rules are unfairly targeting vacation rental owners and property managers.

The new fee structure includes increases in annual permitting, along with fines.

Rules also solidify noise limits, set occupancy limits based on house size, and distinguishes between vacation rentals in tourist zones and residential neighborhoods.

In 2014, 27 percent of the city’s nuisance calls, like excessive noise complaints, occurred at vacation rentals.

Lake Tahoe Accommodations, under owner Jim Morris, filed a lawsuit against the city in June after the council approved a new fee structure and regulations on vacation home rentals in South Lake Tahoe city limits.

“We’re not objecting to a fee, but rather how much it is and how it is imposed,” said attorney Bridget Barnes following the court meeting.

Barnes represents Lake Tahoe Accommodations.

According to Barnes, fees are more than what is needed to enforce the vacation rental ordinance.

Vacation home owners must pay $300 a year for a permit if the home accommodates five to eight people. If the home has three or more violations, the permit fee doubles. Vacation-home-rental guests face fines from $250 (on first offense) to $2,000 (on fourth offense).

In the past, city manager Nancy Kerry said that revenues generated from permit fees and enforcement fines cover all costs of a program, from enforcement to inspection costs.

The lawsuit claims the city failed to hold a public meeting on new fees under California government code.

The city conducted a number of public hearings about new regulations prior to final adoption of the updated fees and enforcement policies.

Barnes plans to argue equal protection for vacation rentals in November the fees unfairly target vacation homes.

“What we’re asking is that the city adopt the fee in general and then charge [vacation-home-rental] folks 27 percent of that,” Barnes said.

South Lake Tahoe assistant city attorney Nira Feeley disagreed with the argument during the court proceeding.

“Regardless of the claim there needs to be a nexus between the charge and the cost of imposing such a fee has nothing to do with equal protection,” Feeley said.

Both sides appear in court again in early November.