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New Short-Term Rental Rules in Sunnyvale

Sunnyvale's City Council has voted to adjust its short-term rental rules after the tragic shooting at an unauthorized house party last year.

In the wake of the deadly shooting during an unauthorized house party at a Sunnyvale short-term rental property, Sunnyvale’s City Council is taking steps to change the short-term rental rules and file a lawsuit against the person who owned the property.

On April 26, the Council voted unanimously to amend Sunnyvale Municipal Code Chapter 19.76 regarding short-term rentals of residential property. The Council will have a second reading of the changes on May 24 and if approved, they will go into effect 30 days later.

“The changes are intended to strengthen the requirements for short-term rental platforms and hosts,” said Jennifer Garnett, Sunnyvale’s Communications Officer. “This will make it harder for hosts to evade our rules and easier for City staff to investigate violations and issue citations as necessary.”

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Current rules require that all short-term rentals in the City must have a permit, however, a recent study found that only a quarter of the City’s short-term rentals comply.

The amendment would require all short-term rental advertisements to include a permit number. Hosting platforms such as Airbnb or VRBO would be required to list Sunnyvale’s short-term rental rules on their websites and remove any listings that do not include a permit number.

City staff says Airbnb, VRBO and Booking.com are ready and willing to work with the City to implement the rule changes.

Sunnyvale Vice Mayor Alysa Cisneros says the willingness of rental companies to help makes a huge difference in her book.

“Since Airbnb is being a very good actor, they’re working with us to the best of their ability, I don’t see the outright banning the practice [of short-term rentals] as being appropriate at this time,” said Cisneros.

Council Member Russ Melton was on the City Council when the short-term rental policy was initiated. He says his beliefs then still hold true today, especially with the cooperation from rental platforms.

“To me it all boils down to mom and pop owners of a living space that had some extra rooms and wanted to just generate some small business type income,” said Melton.

The City Council also voted to implement stricter fees for people who violate the City’s short-term rental rules. Under the new fee structure, the City will fine short-term rental owners $1,500 to $5,000 if they violate the City’s health and safety rules.

Sunnyvale Mayor Larry Klein has reservations about the repercussions of the policy but he believes it is an important step.

“I do have reservations about the number of listings that we will no longer get and I think that there are quite a few of the Airbnb listings that will no longer decide to do short-term rentals, whether or not that’s a room or something else,” said Klein. “Hopefully that will be converted conceivably into longer-term leased rentals within the city, so we’ll see how this plays out.”

If the changes pass, the City Council will need to decide how much money to spend on these changes. Under the maximum enforcement plan, City staff would assign an employee to work with hosting platforms to enforce the rules, create a community awareness campaign and proactively monitor registration and compliance.

The total cost would be $145,000 per year for two years.

These changes are in response to a deadly shooting at an unauthorized house party at a short-term rental on Navarro Drive. On August 7, 2021, two teens were shot at the house party. One of them died. In December, police arrested an 18-year-old man in connection with the shooting.

The City Council voted on April 28 to authorize the City Attorney to start a civil lawsuit against the home’s owner, Ms. Ke Zhou, for violating the City’s short-term rental rules. Zhou reportedly lives out of state, but Sunnyvale requires that all short-term rentals must be hosted, meaning the owner must be on-site during the stay.

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