Marin County caps short-term rentals along touristy coast

Officials expect attrition will adjust the market to hard limits on licenses

Marin County caps short-term rentals along the scenic coast
County Supervisor Dennis Rodoni with Stinson Beach (County of Marin, Getty)

In Marin County, short-term rentals such as Airbnb have become a lightning rod in one of the most expensive regions of the state that has few available homes for local workers.

Now the Marin County Board of Supervisors has approved a hard cap on the number of short-term rentals it will allow in unincorporated parts of Marin, including the rustic towns along Highway 1 and the Point Reyes National Seashore, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The ordinance imposes a cap of 1,281 short-term rentals for unincorporated Marin County, where there were 923 licensed as of January.

In Marin County, the explosive growth in short-term rentals has been divisive in smaller towns, where the number of full-time residents is dwindling while millionaires’ second and third homes, many of which are used as seasonal rentals, sit empty much of the year.

That’s a cruel paradox when there are not enough affordable homes for people who work in those communities, proponents of the cap said. 

Opponents, including many who rent out their homes, argued the county didn’t have enough data to prove short-term rentals directly affect housing availability.

The county has placed specific limits for 18 coastal communities, most of which will be allowed no more than the existing number of short-term rentals, while some will have to reduce their numbers. 

The exception is Dillon Beach, a historic vacation town where the short-term rental market will be allowed to significantly grow. 

In Point Reyes Station, population 383, there are 32 short-term rentals, according to the county. Under the new rules, 26 will be allowed.

In Stinson Beach, the cap will allow the amount of rentals that currently exist: 192, according to the Times. In Bolinas, short-term rentals will be capped at 54; there are now 63.

In Dillon Beach, vacation rentals will be allowed to grow 63 percent to 204, from 125. 

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The town has no school. The only businesses are a resort and its general store, which supervisors said make for a different kind of community than many of the other towns along the Marin coast.

County officials said they expect the number of existing short-term rentals to shrink by attrition.

Current license holders will have to reapply and adhere to stricter regulations, which can include expensive septic upgrades. The new rules allow just one short-term rental property per operator, and licenses will not transfer to new owners if a property sells. 

Since 1992, the Coastal Commission has considered at least 47 short-term rental ordinances. It has approved all but four, including Marin County’s new ordinance.

“Vacation rentals can provide important public access to the coast, especially where hotels are scarce. But without thoughtful guidelines, they can also have unintended impacts on local housing availability,” Kate Huckelbridge, executive director of the Coastal Commission, said in a statement to The Times.

“We think Marin County achieved the right balance for their unique and world-famous coastline.”

Some 85 percent of Marin County is public space or agricultural land protected from development. In unincorporated areas, the typical sales price of a single-family home rose 98 percent from 2013 to 2021, to $1.91 million, according to a county housing plan.

As a result, there are fewer affordable homes for families, whose numbers are shrinking, as well as school teachers and other workers.. 

Marin County Supervisor Dennis Rodoni, who represents the scenic West Marin towns where vacation rentals are most heavily concentrated, said they have transformed “tiny communities where even losing a few homes is a big deal.

“Our volunteer fire departments are losing volunteers,” he said. “Our school teachers, we’re having a hard time locating them in the community; they have to commute long distances.”

— Dana Bartholomew