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VRA's Wm May, comments on Rancho Mirage vacation renter age limit

(News Item #0299, Published: 08/02/14, Author: Blake Herzog, Desert Sun)

VRIA Volunteer Wm. May comments on Rnacho Mirageo vacation rental age limit
Rancho Mirage City Hall

Word of Rancho Mirage's Thursday adoption of a requirement for vacation rental properties to have at least one tenant age 30 or older had reached national industry groups by Friday, where representatives couldn't think of a similar law anywhere else.

William May, a volunteer at the Vacation Rental Association in Seattle, said he doubted the age limit would withstand a court challenge, in part because of Washington state court rulings limiting the ability of cities and even Homeowners Associations to ban short-term residential rentals, generally defined as periods of less than one month.

"They're all looking at the use," he said of the judges' reasoning. "There's no difference between what a family does there whether they stay there for three days, or three months, or three years, or 13 years."

Mark McSweeney, executive director of the Indianapolis-based Vacation Rental Managers Association, said "We've already gotten wind of this" by the time The Desert Sun reached him Friday morning, through one of his news feeds.

Rancho Mirage vacation rental age restriction set at 30

While he said information on the Rancho Mirage law was "too new" for him to react yet, he did say, "It's not uncommon for it to be above 18. In many instances it's 25 or 21, so being over 18 does not seem all that unusual. Thirty may be a little high."

The Rancho Mirage council said Thursday it can adopt an outright ban on vacation rentals, citing the city of Carmel as an example, but instead is trying to keep the peace between owners who, in some cases, say they would risk losing their homes if they weren't able to rent it short-term and residents who say the practice disrupts their way of life.

The council voted to require every short-term rental contract to include a "responsible person," age 30 or older, among the occupants to acknowledge the city's rules of conduct in vacation homes, put into place following complaints from neighbors of so-called "party houses" which create noise, parking and traffic problems, and other disturbances.

The new law kicks in Aug. 30, replacing the old minimum of 21. Opinions differ on whether California law allows the city to require young vacation renters to have what Rancho Mirage lawyer Ken Gregory derisively calls a "30-year-old babysitter."

Gregory, a defense lawyer who has handled civil rights and administrative law cases, was asked by a vacation rental owner he won't identify to represent him or her at the council meeting Thursday.

He said following the regulation would force vacation rental owners to violate the state's Unruh Civil Rights Act, which gives residents the right to "full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges or services in all business establishments" and bars discrimination on the basis of race, sex or several other characteristics.

Age is not included on that list but the California Supreme Court has ruled the law's reach is not necessarily restricted to that list, according to the website of the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

But the DFEH Public Affairs Office said in a statement emailed Friday to The Desert Sun, the Rancho Mirage requirement doesn't go against the Unruh act.

"In California, for most contracts to be valid, the parties must be of the age of majority (age 18 or above), hence a regulation that requires the rental housing applicant to be an adult (here ages 21, 25 or 30) is not arbitrary," the agency said.

Palm Springs, which is also dealing with considerable conflict between vacation rental owners and residents as well, changed its limit to 25 about three months ago, City Councilman Chris Mills said.

He said no one publicly protested that four-year shift when it happened. "We talked about 30, and we really felt it wasn't needed, that there didn't need to be someone that old to accept responsibility, and it wasn't so much about the person.

"We felt 21 might be too young," he added. "We haven't had a lot bad experiences where one had people who were 25, 26, 27, it was more the really young," he said.

Rancho Mirage's new rules could hamper potential short-term renters like athletes competing in LPGA's Kraft Nabisco Classic, the BNP Paribas Open for tennis in Indian Wells, musicians playing the Coachella or Stagecoach festivals, or up-and-comers being honored at the Palm Springs International Film Festival gala.

But many residents resent the intrusion of commerce onto their street and an unpredictable stream of temporary neighbors in and out of the house or condo next door, Rancho Mirage City Councilman Ted Weill said after the Thursday vote, estimating any poll taken in the city would find 95 percent don't want to live next to a vacation rental.

Still, staying in a home versus a resort holds a special appeal in the desert, said Larry Abel of Palm Springs, part owner of Raymond Lawrence and Party Lab and an events producer who works in Los Angeles and New York. "It's all about being able to barbecue and be outside. And we have the best houses here," he said, citing the popularity of midcentury modern architecture.

He added Rancho Mirage's requirement of at least one 30-year-old occupant could affect the whole Coachella Valley., including increasingly hip Palm Springs. "People aren't from the desert don't know the difference. And everything's done by social networking, so all it takes is a couple people tweeting 'they don't want anyone under 30 in Palm Springs."