Napa County Preparing to Tighten Regulations on Illegal Vacation Rentals

Napa County is preparing to crack down on “illegal” or non-conforming vacation rentals in unincorporated area of Napa Valley by preparing a new ordinance.

A report prepared for yesterday’s study session of the Napa County Planning Commission by Planning Director Hillary Gitelman asked for discussion and direction on the development of an ordinance “clarifing the difference between single family dwelling units and short-term commercial guest accommodations, specifying uses and ownership or rental arrangements associated with each and analyzing extremely large residences to determine if they should require environmental review.”

This action falls in line with the implementation of the new Napa County General Plan.

“In the unincorporated County, there are about 10,090 dwelling units, with the median household income of $99,200. Very little new housing development occurs in unincorporated Napa County due to land costs, minimum parcel sizes of 40 to 160 acres in most of the County and the small supply of land available for multi-family housing,” said Gitelman in her report.

“At the same time, Napa County’s agricultural economy is supported by tourism, and some residents and business entities have discovered they can reap substantial profits by renting their homes, second units and/or guest cottages to tourists or by selling memberships or using other creative ownership/rental arrangements. It is difficult to estimate precisely how many dwellings in unincorporated Napa County are being used in a manner inconsistent with the County’s definition of a dwelling unit…. Many people have the impression that this has become a serious problem, and both a policy and an action item to address this issue were included in the General Plan adopted June 3, 2008,” she continued.

The County’s General Plan states, “The County will promote development concepts that create flexibility, economy and a variety in housing without resulting in significant environmental impacts and without allowing residences to become timeshares, resorts, hotels or similar tourist-type accommodations.”

Gitelman asked the Planning Commission for specific direction on whether the new ordinance should define what a residential dwelling unit looks like, potentially modifying the definition of “kitchen” contained in Napa County Code and addressing residences in which bedrooms are designed as stand-alone structures.

The Town of Yountville addressed a similar problem in February when it sent letters to the owners of seven Yountville residences advising them to stop using their homes as short-term rental units.

In Yountville it is illegal to rent private homes for 30 days or less.

Yountville’s crackdown was precipitated by public complaints and recognition of Yountville homes being advertised as vacation rentals on popular websites.

“Preventing the intrusion of short-term rental businesses into residential areas preserves the residential character of our neighborhoods and ensures that hotel uses are conducted within the commercial areas of Town designated visitor accommodation,” explained a Town of Yountville assistant planner when the enforcement letters were issued.

The above story is by Sharon Stensaas, Editor of the Yountville Sun, September 18, 2008

This has always been a problem in the Napa Valley. As far as I understand, only the Town of Yountville and St. Helena have ordinances on their code books prohibiting rentals for less than 30 days and each has taken action against illegal vacation rentals. St. Helena did so about three years ago and the only steps the County has taken that I know about was to contact  three owners who were very blatant in how they operated their rental operations and the County received numerous complaints from neighbors. To the best of my knowledge, Napa County doesn’t have a written prohibition against vacation rentals and this new ordinance will be a first.

All that one needs to do to see how many vacation rentals are out there is simply do a Google search on the term. Many, including several in Yountville, have changed the wording on the various websites they advertise on to “only rented by the month” but upon calling the owner, find it is miraculously available for a shorter time-frame.

I am not certain of exactly how I feel about vacation rentals here in the Napa Valley. I only know it was sure nice to have them available when I went somewhere on vacation, but then, would I want one next door to me? That seems to always be the question I come back to. Let me know how you feel.

Curtis Van Carter, has been one of Napa Valley Real Estate's most knowledgeable and experienced agents. He has been characterized by his clients for his honesty and knowledge to make a home sale or purchase as smooth as possible. If you are interested in selling or listing a home please call or EMAIL Curtis here.


  1. says

    Hello Sharon,

    First of all, thank you so much for the opportunity to voice my opinion. As a vacation rental owner, not in Napa Valley, I can assure you that every single family we have ever rented to has treated the home, and neighbors with respect. It’s really no different than when we use our home (second home). Actually, I probably have more people, and use more street parking because I come from a large family, and have many visitors. As for vacationer, they are usually from out of town. We don’t rent our home as a party house, and make this very clear, that would be a problem for any neighbor, and it would not be respectful.

    I just don’t see the issue with vacation rentals in Napa Valley, or anywhere else, as long as they’re not rented as party houses. Like you, we always enjoy staying in a vacation home, while on vacation, especially if it’s for more than a week. It’s nice to have the extra space, especially for a family of 4. And again, it’s really no different than if the actual owner was living in the home. I think some people need to complain no matter what.

    Thank you sharon,


    • says

      This is Curtis Van Carter. I wrote this story in 2010 and things have changed a little since then. Calistoga is currently in the process of cracking down on illegal vacation rentals and the place which has one of the worst reputation toward tourism in general, St Helena, has just approved allowing them. There are only 25 to be permitted in St Helena and the approval is fairly stringent. It is the want of those TOT (transient occupancy taxes) that is make St Helena consider doing this. They have by far the fewest number of hotel rooms in the Napa Valley. cheers cvc

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