The Scoop on the New Sonoma Vacation Rental Permit

by Rebecca on November 23, 2010

in For Owners,Vacation Rental News

sonoma county vintage barnAs you may have heard, Sonoma County is the latest community tightening its regulation of vacation rental properties. The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance in early November requiring vacation rental owners to obtain a permit starting January 2011. The ordinance requires existing vacation rentals with 6 or fewer rooms to obtain a $150 permit, and also to submit documentation that their septic system is at least class 3. Properties with more than 6 rooms (or new properties with more than 5 rooms) will need a use permit, which can cost as much as $3,800.

“Existing” and “new” designations are based on whether the property has paid the county lodging tax for the past 2 years.

The permit application is not yet available but should be online starting January 1, 2011. An announcement will appear on the county’s website ( when the application is ready. In the meantime, vacation rentals that are not registered with the tax collector should do that. For more information about taxes, call 707-565-2869.

Sonoma is not the only region paying increasing attention to vacation rentals. Recently, New York City stirred up controversy with a new law cracking down on short-term rentals. The law is targeted at residential motels and landlords who covert multiple units en mass into short-term rentals. The city says their focus is not the small-time owner who rents out an apartment while on vacation.

San Francisco and Paris are two other major cities with short-term rental bans on the books–but in both cases, the laws are infrequently enforced, and the focus was never on individual owners. Still, the topic draws much ire from homeowners who believe their property rights should cover their ability to rent out their home. Tourists are also irked, since vacation rentals are often the only affordable lodging option in big cities, and banning them limits a city’s tourism revenue.

For the time being, most travel experts agree that vacation rental owners and budget travelers have little to worry about.

In the words of a staffer from New York Senator Liz Kreuger’s office: “Certainly what we’re concerned about are the major operators who are renting out dozens and hundreds of rooms at a time, not Mrs. Jones who might be renting out her apartment for three weeks.”

Some of Inhabit’s Sonoma vacation rentals will be impacted. Our advice–and of course, we’re not lawyers, so we suggest contacting one if you’re concerned–is to do your level best to run an open, honest business. Collect your local lodging tax, be a good neighbor, and follow any and all new regulations. The whole issue is a gray area in most communities, but given the growth of the vacation rental industry there’s little doubt that it will be under increased scrutiny in coming years. The more we show the world that vacation rentals and short-term lodging enhances rather than hurts local communities, the better off we’ll all be.

If any of you own or manage vacation rentals, we’d love to hear about your experience with local regulation. Do you have any recommendations or tips to share?



One of Inhabit’s new hosts shared some research about San Francisco vacation rental permits, which I’m happy to pass along. The source of this information is the SF Muni Code, accessible here.

Here’s what the code says about vacation rentals:

Section 41A.5 “(a) Unlawful Actions. It shall be unlawful for any owner to offer an apartment unit for rent for tourist or transient use.”

BUT! The definition of “apartment unit” is important:

Section 41A.4 “(a) Apartment Unit. Room or rooms in any building, or portion thereof, which is designed, built, rented, leased, let or hired out to be occupied, or which is occupied as the home or residence of four or more households living independently of each other in dwelling units as defined in the San Francisco Housing Code….”

Section 41A.4 “(c) Tourist or Transient Use. Use of an apartment unit for occupancy on less than a 30-day term of tenancy.”

What this adds up to is that vacation rentals are fine, as long as the apartment is in a building of fewer than four units. If the building has four or more units, the minimum rental period is 30 days. Lodging taxes (14% in SF, plus 1-1.5% TID depending on the area) are due for rentals of 29 days or less.

What’s still unclear is how the city treats large condo buildings, but usually these buildings’ homeowners associations have their own set of rules which would incorporate city requirements.

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  • Illegal Units

    This is incorrect reporting,. Please contact the planning and zoning department of Sf. You cannot rent less than 30 days in a residential neighborhood. Period. These are illegal in the city of SF. I have personally had several closed down next door to me due to the motel style rentals in a residential neighborhood. Period. Please do not report this as if you know what you are talking about until you get the truth in reporting. 

    • Rebecca

      Thanks for the feedback. Everyone should do their own research and contact their attorney. The laws are nuanced and hard to understand, and it’s important for everyone to understand their local ordinances.

    • M. Roger Linden

      To Illegal Units:

      If you are so sure you know what you are talking about, and if you “personally had several closed down next door…due to the motel style rentals in a residential neighborhood” (whatever that means) why don’t you post your comment under your name.  It’s fine to post a comment under a screen name like “Illegal Units” but don’t expect to be considered credible. The person who wrote this article was secure enough in her belief in the accuracy of the content that she put her name on it.  Your failure to put your name on your comment raises serious questions about the accuracy of your comments, and frankly your integrity. If what you are saying is accurate, there would be no reason to post your comment without identifying yourself by name. And to make matters worse, you have the audacity to talk about truth in reporting.  What’s your name, Illegal Units? Why won’t you post your comment under your real name?