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Sonoma County tightens STR regulations

  • Jun 6, 2023 | Jennifer Sokolowsky

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors has revised regulations for short-term rentals (STRs) in unincorporated areas of the California county. The new rules clarify business license and operational requirements, place limits on the number of short-term rentals in specific areas, and address fractional property ownership.

Between 2,300 and 2,400 STRs operate at any given time in unincorporated Sonoma County, including the coastal zone. The latest rules don’t affect licensed properties already in operation.

Under the new law, license holders must be natural persons or family trusts, not LLCs or corporations. Only one license is allowed per holder. License holders must notify neighbors when renewing their license, and must resolve complaints within 30 minutes in the evening and 60 minutes during the day.

The new rules strengthen enforcement. Fines start at $1,500 for a first violation and go up to $5,000 for a third violation within one year. Licenses can now be revoked for up to five years, versus a maximum of two years previously. The county already established a 24-hour hotline for complaints about STRs last fall.

The board also approved 5% caps or exclusionary zones in areas with high concentrations of short-term rentals or safety concerns, including Hughes Chicken Colony near Sonoma, Fitch Mountain outside Healdsburg, Austin Creek near Guernewood, and others. The regulations ban STRs along parts of the lower Russian River with limited evacuation routes or high percentages of short-term rentals.

Short-term rental properties must also observe rules related to:

  • Noise
  • Parking
  • Safety
  • Maintaining defensible space against wildfires
  • Occupancy, with a maximum of 12 guests per property
  • Evacuation plans

The county also defined fractional-use ownership as “an entity, such as an LLC, which in turn has co-owners,” and added the definition to the county’s timeshare rules. Properties with fractional-use ownership must follow the same laws as timeshares and are only allowed in recreation and visitor-serving zones.

The latest revisions continue work started in August 2022 when the board made major changes to how STRs are governed. The most recent rules were passed shortly before a moratorium on new short-term rental licenses was due to expire May 9. The moratorium started in June 2022 and was originally set for 45 days but was extended.

Short-term rental operators in Sonoma County are also required to collect transient occupancy tax (TOT) from guests and file TOT tax returns with the county.

Airbnb automatically collects TOT on behalf of hosts in unincorporated Sonoma County for bookings made through its site. However, operators need to be aware that they’re responsible for collecting and filing any lodging taxes Airbnb doesn’t collect directly for them, as well as taxes on bookings made through other platforms, such as Vrbo.

MyLodgeTax can help California short-term rental hosts automate and simplify their lodging tax compliance. For more on lodging tax in California, see our state Lodging Tax Guide. If you have tax questions related to vacation rental properties, drop us a line and we’ll get back to you with answers.

Lodging tax rates, rules, and regulations change frequently. Although we hope you'll find this information helpful, this blog is for informational purposes only and does not provide legal or tax advice.
Avalara Author
Jennifer Sokolowsky
Avalara Author Jennifer Sokolowsky
Jennifer Sokolowsky writes about tax, legal, and tech topics. She has an extensive international background in journalism and marketing, including work with The Seattle Times, The Prague Post, Avvo, and Marriott.
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