Conversation With Kent Manuel, City Planner: Staff Recommends Airbnb, VRBO Regulations

Kent Manuel, Redding Senior Planner

Kent Manuel, Redding Planning Manager

Today we talk with Kent Manuel, Planning Manager for the city of Redding, about city staff recommendations to the Redding Planning Commission regarding regulations on short-term rental homes and individual rooms, such as through Airbnb and VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner).

Hello, Kent. Thanks for taking time to talk with me today about the issue of short-term rentals, such as through Airbnb or VRBO. This subject is super timely, because it will come before the Redding Planning Commission at 4 p.m. this afternoon in the Redding City Council Chambers.

Before we officially begin, in the spirit of full disclosure, I’ve been an Airbnb host for a year, so I have a vested interest in this subject.

First, can you tell a bit about your position with the city, what you do, and your part in this vacation rental topic?

As Planning Manager for the City I am responsible for a number of things ranging from coordinating the work of five professional planners, reviewing and making recommendations on proposed development projects, planning for long term growth in the community, and initiating discussion with the Planning Commission on items that need to be addressed, such as the Short Term Rental regulations.

What do you know about this subject now, that you didn’t know before?

To assist us, we identified a number of members of the public who were already hosting stays through Airbnb and other platforms. We also enlisted the help of owners of local bed and breakfast inns, and representatives of the local tourism bureau, Board of Realtors, and homeowners associations.  Each brought their unique experiences to the table. I gained a better understanding of the wide range of rental activities occurring in the community, from vacation-type rentals to those individuals who simply rent a room out in their home a few times a month as a way to meet people from other countries or interesting locals.  Some actually use the stays as an opportunity to promote Redding as a great community despite the issues we all hear in the print and other media.

What’s the back story about what started the ball rolling for the city to consider regulating single-family residences as vacation rentals, and for renting individual rooms?

Like most California cities, Redding’s current regulations prohibit renting out rooms in your home for less than 30 day periods. With the advent of Airbnb, VRBO and other sites, it became clear that perhaps hundreds of homes were involved in this activity.  Rather than automatically defaulting to Code Enforcement actions, we decided that the time was right to involve the broader community to help us determine whether, and if so how, Redding should change its regulations.  And there is the issue of equity.  Hotels/motels and bed and breakfast inns must collect and transmit Transient Occupancy taxes to the City, for instance. Basic fairness suggests that this should be applied across the board.

Roughly how many complaints has the city received regarding Airbnb and VRBO rentals?

Surprisingly few, given the number of homes being advertised.  Perhaps a dozen or so a year.  It appears that these may be mostly related to vacation-type rentals, rather than someone occasionally renting out a room or two.

What is the general nature of the complaints, and would the proposed regulations take care of these issues?

The main complaint is guests parking in front of neighbors’ homes. The regulations under consideration will require that guests park in a driveway or elsewhere on the owners’ property.

Are there cities that Redding is using as an example of short-stay-rental regulations that would seem a good fit for our city? 

We have not found a “model” that really fits Redding.  Restricting the number of rental rooms, persons per room, number of rental days a year, establishing parking requirements, etc., is pretty common.  We have tried to strike a balance between the ability to rent out rooms in single family neighborhoods, with the expectations of neighbors that these are not “commercial” districts.

Can you summarize the proposed regulations?

A two-tiered approach is proposed.  Someone who wants to rent up to two rooms for no more than 120 days a year, for instance, will just need to come to the Permit Center at City Hall and sign an affidavit indicating that they understand, and will comply with, the regulations.  The owner would have to  live at the residence during rental periods.  On the other hand, someone who has more rooms for rent, would like to rent for more days a year, or does not live on the premises would have to apply for a “site development permit”.  Neighbors within 300 feet are notified of the application and the Development Services Department Director may place conditions on the permit as necessary to maintain compatibility with the neighborhood.

Let’s say the City Council does implement the recommended regulations. How will they be enforced, given the fact that Redding’s code enforcement staff is already backlogged with something like 600 unresolved cases?

First, we believe that it is important that the approval process be as easy as possible for the majority of Short Term Rentals.  Other cities have noticed a correlation between the difficulty and expense of obtaining permits and the level of compliance.  That is why we are proposing the two-tier system.  For those who do not comply, we will just have to prioritize our enforcement action in the same manner we do today. The more serious complaints are first to be acted upon given staff limitations.

Some cities have implemented the adoption of a TOT (Transient Occupancy Tax), and left it at that. Why is staff adding other recommendations, such as limiting the number of rental days to 120 per year?

It really boils down to the balance I spoke of before. I believe it is safe to say that a large number of homeowners in single family neighborhoods would prefer that the City just continue to prohibit the activity.

I was surprised at the workshop before the Redding Planning Commission a few months ago about this topic to learn that technically, all Airbnb and VRBO hosts are breaking the law. What is the law, exactly, and what’s its purpose?

The restrictions on renting rooms for periods less than 30 days are fairly ubiquitous in California.  I believe that it all started out as a way to protect single family neighborhoods by directing visitors to hotels and motels in commercial districts.  Clearly, times are changing and we feel that it is important to take a fresh look at the restrictions.

Some homeowners claim they should be able to do what they want with their homes, whether it’s to invite a paying guest into their home as a way to earn extra money, or to have someone stay for free in their home. Both situations involve guests who use city public roads and emergency services. Why does the presence of money in the equation change the scenario?

As I said before, throughout this process we have heard from homeowners who are concerned about regular rental activity in their neighborhoods.  Agree or not, they believe that this activity belongs in hotels or motels, not in their neighborhoods.

On a related note, I’m curious. Would families who receive compensation for hosting foreign exchange students be under the same regulations?

If the “rental “ period is more than 30 days, then there would not be a violation of existing or proposed regulations.

So, if someone rents to the same guest(s) for a consecutive 120 days, then these proposed regulations do not apply?

Correct. If you rent for over 30 days to same person then the new regs would not apply.
Technically, yes.

Can you give examples of other residential scenarios in which citizens are unwittingly breaking the law?

Perhaps such things as having continuous garage/yard sales.

When I attended the workshop before the Redding Planning Commission that tackled this subject in July, there was an understandably upset group of Gold Hills homeowners who cited examples of non-owner-occupied homes taking up as much as four homes in a 12-home cul-de-sac, many of which were said to house Bethel students. Would the recommended regulations solve this problem?

Not if the homes are rented out to the students for longer than 30 days at a time.

Is there anything else we should know?

This is the first step for Redding.  As we have told the Planning Commission, if the regulations are adopted by Council, we will monitor their effectiveness and make adjustments as necessary based on what we find.  We always have the ability to improve whatever we put in place.

Thanks, Kent, for taking the time to talk with me today.

If you’re going:

What: Regular Meeting – Redding Planning Commission

Where: Council Chambers, 777 Cypress Ave., Redding

When:  Tues., Oct. 13, 4 p.m. (Doors open 30 minutes prior)

Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded A News Cafe in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain holds a Bachelor's Degree in journalism from CSU, Chico. She's an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She's been featured and quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Slate. Bloomberg News and on CNN, KQED and KPFA. She lives in Redding, California.

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