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The Issue of Single Family Transient Rentals: Zoning for...

The Issue of Single Family Transient Rentals: Zoning for Economic Development in Mammoth Lakes, CA

Zoning, the main form in which land use is regulated in the United States, is a controversial form of urban planning. Property owners do not like being told what they can and cannot do with their land and view use restrictions as a violation of their property rights. Those in favor of zoning view it

Transient Rentals ProhibitedZoning, the main form in which land use is regulated in the United States, is a controversial form of urban planning. Property owners do not like being told what they can and cannot do with their land and view use restrictions as a violation of their property rights. Those in favor of zoning view it as protection from some public nuisances. For example, if you buy property that is zoned residential, then you expect protection from the construction of an industrial factory near your home. These opposing points of view are currently in debate in the Town of Mammoth Lakes, CA where arguments for and against the transient rental of single family homes are currently surging.

Mammoth Lakes is a small destination resort community seeking industry distinction located in the Eastern Sierra region of California. The Town’s local economy is based on tourism: the ski industry in the winter and fishing in the summer. As a singular-based tourist economy, the major source of revenue for the community is the transient occupancy tax, a tax levied on tourists who stay in hotels, which I’ve discussed in previous articles for The GRID. Currently, many homeowners have chosen to rent their vacation homes as a source of alternative income; however, more often than not, these homes are located in areas within the zoning code that do not permit transient rentals.

This issue has brought forth a lot of discussion regarding the transient use of single family homes. Those who are against zoning for transient rental of single family homes cite the following issues:

  • Excessive noise of vacationers;
  • Barking dogs;
  • Renters ignoring property lines;
  • Garbage disposal issues;
  • And a general disrespect for neighbors.

Currently struggling with the possibility of municipal bankruptcy, the Town could decide to allow for the transient use of homes located in Residential Single Family (RSF) zone. Recently, a coalition was formed to address the positive aspects associated with allowing this zoning update which includes aspects related to economic development. Among their main “talking points” on their website are:

  • The increased revenue that could be collected by allowing single family homes to rent transiently;
  • The high rate of potential foreclosures that could be avoided;
  • Improved marketing by remaining competitive with resort communities like Aspen, Colorado, Sun Valley, Idaho and Taos, New Mexico;
  • And the creation of local jobs (property managers, contractors, handymen, plumbers, painters, landscapers, cleaning crews, snow plow drivers, taxi drivers, rental agencies, food delivery, ski rental, restaurants, retail, etc.).

If you were a single family homeowner, would you want to allow transient rentals in your neighborhood? If you were local business owner, how would you feel about increasing the number of transient rental facilities in your town? If you were a hotel operator, how would you feel about this?

Credits: Image and data linked to sources.

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Patricia Kent wrote for The GRID between October 2011 and October 2012. During this time she was a graduate student in Community & Regional Planning with a concentration in Latin American Studies at the University of New Mexico. She was also a re...

  • Ken Grey

    Opposers always sight excessive noise and garbage issues. There are laws against excessive noise and garbage! For goodness sake, address THOSE laws, dont stop transient rentals because only SOME transients are noisy – attack the noise problem head on – BUT allow transient renters who abide buy the LAW and this way EVERYONE WINS!!!!!!

  • Thanks for your comment, Ken!

    Proponents of transient rentals in single family residential zones cite the increased tax base, which benefits everyone who uses public roads, recreational facilities, etc. But how do you regulate these transient occupancy facilities? Surely, owners could just rent via any number of online websites without obtaining the proper the documentation OR remitting taxes. Furthermore, when transients are excessively loud or leave garbage out for the bears (a serious problem in the mountains) who should the Town punish – the transients or the homeowners? I’m interested to hear your ideas on these issues.

    Thanks again for reading!

  • Jerry

    My concern is with having new strangers in my neighborhood every week. I have two newborn babies and I don’t feel good about having a constant flow of people I don’t know next door to where my children play. In this day even those you know cannot be trusted much less those you don’t know. My neighborhood is working families, and the zoning is intended to enhance the stability and safety of the neighborhood. My town is a beach town but our RS-1 neighborhoods don’t allow short term rental but we do have abusers of the system who live overseas and transact business there and so are able to skirt the law. If folks want to do short term rental they need to buy properties that are zoned for it. Don’t change the single family neighborhood where people actually live to allow this. If the neighborhood consists of single-family homes but most are vacation homes (not occupied by working families) then a zoning change may be appropriate but an analysis of the neighborhoods character should support that change.

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