Fight over vacation rental homes in South Lake Tahoe continues
December 24, 2018
An initial court hearing for a lawsuit claiming Measure T is unconstitutional has been delayed.
The case was set to go before recently-seated Superior Court Judge Michael McLaughlin on Wednesday. However, McLaughlin decided to recuse himself from the case — an announcement made by the bailiff before a crowded courtroom of Measure T supporters and opponents.
The announcement didn't specify why McLaughlin, who previously served as a local attorney practicing real estate and other aspects of law, recused himself.
The case will be assigned to a different judge and rescheduled.
A group filed a lawsuit against the city of South Lake Tahoe alleging a ballot measure banning vacation home rentals in residential neighborhoods is "unconstitutional and unenforceable."
The complaint, filed Tuesday by a group of property and business owners calling themselves the South Lake Tahoe Property Owners Group, claims Measure T discriminates against property owners who aren't "permanent residents" while allowing permanent residents to continue renting their properties as short-term rentals.
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Measure T, a citizen-led initiative that narrowly passed in the recent general election, prohibits VHRs outside of the city's tourist core and commercially zoned areas. The lone caveat is that full-time residents have the ability to rent out their home up to 30 days per year.
Those limitations don't take effect until Dec. 31, 2021, however, the measure mandates new occupancy limits be implemented immediately. Those limits effectively prevent more than 12 people from staying in a VHR.
The lawsuit requests a preliminary and permanent injunction barring the enforcement of Measure T.
Measure T marked a boiling point on VHRs, which have been one of the most hotly contested issues in South Lake Tahoe in recent years.
The measure sparked a fierce debate in the community, with supporters saying the measure was needed to save South Lake Tahoe's neighborhoods, which have become hosts for de facto hotels. Opponents argued the measure would be catastrophic for the local economy.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars poured into the region urging a "no" vote on the question. The National Association of Realtors and the travel company Expedia were among the large outside donors backing the "no" effort.
When all was said and done Measure T passed by 58 votes — 3,517 (50.42 percent) to 3,459 (49.58 percent). Nobody requested a recount.
Backers argued passage of the measure, despite the large amount of outside money working against it, was a clear indication voters want VHRs out of residential neighborhoods.
Opponents disputed any claim of a "mandate" and vowed to continue the discussion on short-term rentals.
The lawsuit argues the occupancy limits don't take into account the size of the property and that it will be "disastrous for businesses, owners and property managers as many people made their holiday plans or winter skiing plans months in advance …"
"Literally thousands of people's holiday plans will be disrupted as will lives of the owners and managers trying to scramble to comply with the new law," the lawsuit contends.
It also claims Measure T "conflicts with state and county law regarding land use regulation in the Lake Tahoe Region," while also interfering with vested rights.
Measure T "contains numerous vague and ambiguous terms" and "impermissibly intrudes into administrative matters rather than legislative issues," the lawsuit argues.
"Plaintiff contends that Measure T is unconstitutional and unenforceable based on violation of the due process, privacy, privileges and immunities, obligation of contracts, right to travel, vested rights, and equal protection provisions of the state and federal constitutions; that it is vague and ambiguous and violates state and county ordinances regulating land use in the Lake Tahoe basin and is beyond the voters' initiative power to adopt."