On a steamy Sunday afternoon in early August, a Palm Springs code enforcement officer arrived at a luxurious vacation rental property to inquire about a noise complaint that came into the city’s hotline.
The officer could hear “Brickhouse” by The Commodores playing from the side of the street, according to a city hotline log. Ultimately, the officer issued a citation, one of 159 issued to Palm Springs vacation rental properties in June, July and August.
That figure represents a 150% increase in the number of citations issued to Palm Springs vacation rentals compared to the same months last year. The majority of citations stemmed from loud music, which comes with a $500 fine to the guest. Others were issued over parking, operating without a license, or other violations.
The spike was coupled with an unanticipated influx of visitors venturing to the desert in the summer heat for longer-than-usual stays to break from sheltering in place.
Bruce Hoban, the co-founder of the Vacation Renter Owners and Neighbors of Palm Springs said the increased number of bookings this summer stemmed from pent-up demand amid the coronavirus pandemic, where “everything was shut down for three months and then all of the sudden you can go get a vacation rental.”
These stays were also longer; while travelers normally stay for two nights for a desert summer getaway, this year saw more frequent stays of four days or longer, Hoban said.
“We got this very not normal crowd coming into the city to rent vacation rentals who just didn’t want to follow the rules,” Hoban said.
Palm Springs’ vacation rental ordinance has been held up as a model for strict enforcement. The city has a “three strikes” policy that can cause an owner to lose their ability to operate for two years. An individual can only have one vacation rental license, which is limited to 32 guest stays a year plus an extra four bookings during July, August and September.
On Wednesday, Councilmember Lisa Middleton presented along with former code enforcement officer Boris Stark, who now works for Acme Vacation Rentals, at a California League of Cities meeting to talk about “best practices” for short-term rentals.
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But some Palm Springs residents would rather see more restrictions, or see vacation rentals gone altogether. A lawsuit is still working its way through a California appellate court disputing