Success stories

How Marin County Created a Higher Reach to Rental Owners and Built Better Capability for Code Compliance

STR listings in 2020
STR compliance in the county
backlog and confusion over back taxes
Response in non-compliance outreach
Meeting the Demands of a Growing Market
With picturesque Northern California views, the nearby Napa Valley and neighboring San Francisco, Marin County is located right in the heart of California splendor. So it isn’t surprising that as the increase in short-term rentals (STRs) has grown nationwide, this convenient community has seen a similar rise in STR interest over the last five years creating new demands on local ordinances.
Granicus provides us a breakdown of the estimated revenues that the owner is going to get from the property. That helps us to determine how much revenue we can generate from one property through taxing.
Ashia Ismail

Previous compliance efforts had failed to keep pace with demand, in part, due to manual and inefficient methods of identifying STR addresses and owners. Those challenges hindered the effort to keep on top of non-compliance in short-term rentals, and the identification and communications required to bring operators into compliance. Granicus Host Compliance provided the tools to more easily research and verify addresses while using staff time and resources more efficiently. After a successful pilot in 2019, Marin has structured a quarterly program to stay on top of STR compliance


Finding Tools to Increase Compliance, Reduce Lines

As with all communities working with STRs, Marin made a concerted effort to give owners and operators the kind of notification that would encourage timely compliance and avoid advanced collection processes, including legal action.

Despite their best efforts to encourage and enforce local ordinance compliance from STR operators, keeping up with growth presented an early challenge for the Marin County Finance Department. Staff found limited resources and tools to investigate and monitor proper STR compliance. The team’s efforts to keep a tab on compliance were under-staffed and short-lived, according to Ashia Ismail, Collections Manager for Marin County for Finance.

“Early on, we had some interns that scoped out different sites like Airbnb and tried to monitor our STRs that way,” she said. “It was very manual and, probably because of that, noticeably short-lived.”

Interest in STRs in Marin County, however, continued to thrive. As STR listings in Marin County approached 1,000 units, the county wanted to minimize the impact of STRs operating out of compliance and level the playing field for those who were already in compliance. The ability to keep track of registrations and associated property information was vital.

Many owners and landlords might not know that their properties are being used as STRs. In order to take proactive steps toward compliance, owners and landlords could sign an affidavit that they didn’t rent their house or that they were unaware of a property being used as an STR. This process created time-consuming delays and long lines at the county office.

Being able to track STRs in a centralized, easily manageable way provided a greater opportunity to find those non-compliant properties and a more effective way of enforcing the ordinances for those owners who weren’t taking proactive steps.


Effective Monitoring and Revenue Estimation

Implementing Host Compliance software from Granicus made an immediate impact on Marin County’s ability to monitor STRs and maintain effective compliance communications with property owners.

“The ability to scan all of the online platforms is a huge timesaver,” said Ismail of the capability to scan 54 STR listing websites. “The address matching system is really effective, and it becomes much easier for us to contact owners about compliance.”

Ismail added that the convenience of automation also applies to estimating tax revenue from STR owners. Rather than depending on manual tax collection processes and the hours needed to track and complete remittance, Ismail said that Granicus’ tiered revenue system that allows her to view actual, potential, and maximum STR revenue numbers gives her department a clearer picture of the revenue stream for each property.


Increased Participation and Compliance

Implementing Granicus Host Compliance created immediate results. The system was first rolled out as part of a pilot in 2019. Marin used the system to identify and connect with 600 non-compliant operators, inviting those hosts to a workshop to learn about and comply with the ordinances. From that initiative, only 12 of the 600 contacted later faced any enforcement escalation, such as liens, as a result of their non-compliance.

The use of online permitting has improved short-term rental operators experience and compliance as well. Having an online renewal option prompt allows more businesses to renew their business licenses on time, while reducing the lines in offices. Combining online services with communications, such as bulk email reminders to businesses with expired business licenses, also resulted in an 80% reduction in prior-year business license delinquencies

“They have improved client services for greater flexibility and convenience,” said Finance Director Roy Given. “The online portal has saved time and resources while making the reporting and payment process smoother and user-friendly to the business operator. It has also been a popular way to connect people to one-on-one assistance with our staff.”

And while 2020 saw what Ismail calls a “big decline” in STR rentals, due in part to California having one of the country’s strictest COVID-related policies toward STRs, the continued success of the Granicus Host Compliance system has led her team to integrate the system as a structured quarterly compliance plan starting in 2021.

Despite the fluctuations in tourism, the automated benefits of Host Compliance will continue to be a part of Marin County’s STR efforts, Ismail said. Not just because of the compliance impact, but because of the impact on her daily work.

“We have a higher reach and better capability to gain compliance with Host Compliance software,” she said. “Now we are better able to reach out to property owners who we would not have known about or found without using the system.”

“The Granicus system helps most by being automated and proactive in getting properties into compliance.”
Ashia Ismail
Collections Manager for Finance, Marin County

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