March 13: Public hearing for vacation rental enforcement ordinance

Does the San Juan County Council have the political will to adopt new regulations regarding vacation rentals in the San Juan Islands? Two public hearings will be held during the Tuesday, March 13, 2018 council meeting. The hearings for the vacation rental ordinances are the third and fourth hearings in the 9:15 a.m. time slot.

 This map shows the location of parcels as assigned on vacation rental permits since 1990. Mapped locations are not the actual locations of rental houses. This is not an exhaustive list of permits and there may be vacation rental permits not shown on the map. This map does not include permits for hotels, motels, resorts, or bed and breakfasts. View the map on the county's website and you can click on each icon and see the permit number and date it was issued. The red icons indicate permit was denied. Pink means the application was withdrawn. The info is accurate as of Feb. 28, 2018.

One ordinance regards changing several rules for permitted vacation rentals. Those are spelled out a previous article "Weigh in on proposed vacation rental regs at March 13 public hearing"

The second ordinance focuses on enforcement and includes a $2,300 fine for operating an unpermitted vacation rental. The five-page enforcement ordinance can be viewed on the county's website.  

According to the draft ordinance:

Amendments to the Uniform Development Code (UDC) are proposed to discourage  unpermitted vacation rentals of single-family residences and accessory dwelling units.  In the past several years, there has been a proliferation of unpermitted vacation rentals.

It  is difficult to bring unpermitted vacation rentals into compliance because under San Juan 14 County Code (SJCC) 18.100.090 the monetary penalty for the first 45 days of a code  violation is $500. This is significantly less than the likely income for a vacation rental  over that same time period. Absent a significant penalty, unpermitted vacation rentals also continue to operate  because the cost of the penalty over 45 days is less than the cost of a permit.

The draft enforcement ordinance calls for a new monetary penalty of $2,300 for the first notice of violation and $100 per day for the  operation thereafter for operating an unpermitted vacation rental. The penalty of $2,300 is equivalent to the cost of a conditional use permit for a vacation  rental.

The Planning Commission recommendation for new permit requirements for vacation rentals also includes a recommendation for better enforcement of the regulations,  including a different and significant penalty for unpermitted vacation rentals. 

More information about the vacation rental code amendment process can be viewed on the county's website.

How to find out if a vacation rental is permitted: 

Vacation rentals of less than 30 days are not allowed in the Town of Friday Harbor. There are a handful of exceptions that are grandfathered in. Vacation rentals in commercially-zoned property are allowed if there is a business in part of the building. For example there is a permitted vacation rental above Funk & Junk on Nichols Street. Otherwise, a commercial property would need to have at least four vacation rental units on one property. For example Etta's Suites on Argyle Avenue in Friday Harbor. If you have questions about vacation rental activity in your neighborhood, you can call the Town Land Use Administrator Mike Bertrand or the Town Enforcement Officer at 360.378.2810. Your name will not be conveyed to the owner of the property in question. You should note that all email communications are public record. 

At the Housing Town Hall on March 9, 2018 Mayor Farhad Ghatan said the town is very proactive in its approach to enforcement. Websites advertising vacation rentals are regularly checked to see if illegal vacation rentals are being advertised. 

San Juan County is one of the few government entities that allows vacation rentals outright in residential areas. Most other counties consider such use to be commercial activity incompatible with a residential neighborhood. If there is a vacation rental in your neighborhood, that you aren't sure is permitted you can call the county's Enforcement Officer at 360-370-7575.  You can leave a message with your name and number asking for a return phone call. Please note that emails are public records and so are recorded voice mail messages. 

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