Are ski leases in Lake Tahoe changing? – SF Gate

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As early snow blankets the Tahoe region, skiers and snowboarders in the Bay Area are likely busy plotting out days to visit during the upcoming winter. But for those that still have work flexibility and want to spend more than a weekend in Tahoe this year, they might be searching for a last-minute ski lease.
A ski lease isn’t a short-term weekend rental, but it’s not the year-long lease many of us are used to signing. This unique renter’s agreement has been around for decades in Tahoe, and yes, they were available even when finding one meant you had to pick up the phone or visit a real estate office rather than just search online. The leases typically last four to five months, beginning in December or January, and may be subject to different terms, depending on the property. 
This type of longer-term rental comes with numerous advantages for those that enjoy winter sports — you can store your equipment there all season and it may actually be cheaper than booking a few short term rentals, to name a few — and can also be a better deal for the homeowner.
Tim Pham grew up in San Jose in the 1970s and ’80s. He and his brother took an impromptu trip to Tahoe while they were in high school, and fell in love with skiing. “That’s how I got hooked. I didn’t even have the right equipment. I wore jeans and a windbreaker,” he said with a laugh.
Pham spent as much time as he could each winter, traveling back and forth to Tahoe. By 1999, he had decided that he wanted to get to know more people like him. He started tacking up flyers around town, eventually creating a Yahoo Group that quickly blossomed to 1,000 people who wanted to connect with other people to ski or ride with. It later evolved into organized carpooling, and before long, people were getting together to share accommodations.
Today, the group dubbed Snow Pals has more than 8,000 members and operates its own website, with the same mission as when Pham started it. Bay Area residents are still finding people to ski and ride with on the weekend, and there’s a section dedicated to helping people share ski leases, with a fee of $20-$40 for the organizer to list the lease on the site. Pham said that small fee helps keep out scammers and also compensates him for his time. 
He said it’s a safer place to find a ski lease than on Craigslist, another popular place for people to search for these leases. In all the years he’s been operating Snow Pals, he’s had only one person complain about the terms of their ski lease, and even that issue ended amicably. 
Pham himself joins a ski lease every year, and he said he’s seen ski leases change a lot over the past two years. He said the biggest change this year is that “about 99% of the leases require vaccinations so everyone can feel safe.”
He said prices have also increased, which he attributes to the local housing market, as well as most leases wanting fewer people overall, due to COVID-19, for safety. He estimates prices have gone up 30% to 40% this year. Another change: There are generally fewer ski leases available since more homeowners are either using their homes more or decided to sell in the good housing market. 
Shoreline Cabins in Lake Tahoe. 
Jim Winterberger of home rental agency Tahoe Getaways said that of the 200 homes they manage, about 60 are ski leases this year. Prices range from $3,000 to $10,000 per month, and most homes are valued at more than $1 million. He said the demand for ski leases has been especially strong this year, even if there are slightly fewer on the market than in a typical year. “The ski lease market has been very strong this year,” Winterberger said. “But it’s always been strong. The ski lease provides a unique utility.”
What might be changing more, he said, is the average signer and amount of use of a ski lease. While it used to be particularly appealing to families, now there are more large groups of 20- and 30-somethings who go in on a lease together. 
“They’ve always been around, but they’ve changed from the typical [families with] kids on the ski team to more professionals,” Winterberger said. “With the migration of more flexible work schedules, I’m not convinced they’re used seven days a week, but Thursday is definitely the new Friday,” 
Since September, both Truckee and Placer County extended their existing moratoriums on new short-term rental permits, meaning homeowners who hoped to rent their property, but didn’t already have a permit, won’t be able to do so anytime soon. Winterberger said these longer, seasonal leases are a great alternative right now, and he wouldn’t be surprised if more become available since that type of agreement is guaranteed income for the season that also isn’t dependent on a good snow season. 
As short-term rentals become more restricted in the region, Rachel Lyons, senior sales manager of Tahoe Vacation rentals, said the COVID-19 pandemic may have also given birth to a whole new kind of lease that goes beyond just winter. “We’d never done summer leases or fall leases, but we have done that the last few years,” Lyons said. “… A lot of owners really like it. It’s less wear and tear. People that live in your home generally take better care of it than those coming up for the weekend. It’s kind of a win-win.”
She said folks that love Tahoe, but don’t love the winter, are happy there are more options like this available. Winterberger agrees. “It’s really a win-win for the tenant and the homeowners,” he said. “It’s a better interface with the community. [Short term rentals are] a hot button issue. This provides consistency. Neighbors like it more.”
As a 30-year Tahoe resident herself, Lyons said these longer-term leases are definitely what she favors for the Tahoe economy, assuming renters treat the homes and the community well. 
Even some of those most concerned about the local housing market said they see the benefits of ski leases. Colin Frolich, co-founder of Landing Locals, a company that helps local renters find long-term rentals, said someone renting a ski lease and then falling in love with the community is not unlike what happened to him and his wife. The couple was living in the Bay Area in 2018 — Frolich was working for Airbnb — when they had the opportunity to house-sit a home in Tahoe for six weeks. He said he saw what a wonderful place it was to live full time and decided he wanted to move there permanently. 
While he’d prefer that ski leases be turned into long-term housing for locals, agreements like these allow for other agreements in the three- to six-month range that can also be used by local workers. Either way, he said it’s much better than individuals coming up for the occasional weekend as a short-term renter.
Frolich is already seeing some changes this year with ski leases. He said more people have come to Landing Locals that want to turn their ski lease or short-term rental property into a long-term lease, but he’s unsure how much that will hold in the future. “The housing crisis is such that any inventory that we can bring back to local housing is good in our eyes,” Frolich said. “… I think COVID has changed the dynamic of the housing market.”
The local housing market is top of mind for so many people in Tahoe; not many people think about it more than Heidi Hill Drum, the CEO of the Tahoe Prosperity Center. As head of the nonprofit group that looks for solutions to strengthening the Tahoe community, she said she believes that ski leases can actually be a good thing, helping visitors decide whether they want to spend more time in the community or even move full time. 
She said while Tahoe has become “a bit of a Zoom town,” tourism is still 62% of the regional economy, and bigger efforts need to be made to get more affordable, dense housing into the community faster. 
“It’s a double-edged sword. If a tech worker from the Bay Area, who has a lot more disposable income than the bartender at the local pub, buys a $500,000 home just as a second home or a ski lease, that takes a home from our local community,” she said. “… but having more year-round residents here with the incomes from the Bay Area, which tend to be higher wage incomes, is a good thing for the local economy since those people go to the local restaurants, get their ski gear locally and put money back into the local economy in ways that someone who drives up for the day and then drives home doesn’t.”
While Pham, the Snow Pals organizer, loves doing a ski lease every year, even he said he’s always dreamed of owning his own home in Tahoe instead. He’s never made it a priority and now, the housing market is just too hot. “I’ve set aside a fund for that,” he said. “I think we’re due for a crash.”
Tessa is a Local Editor for SFGATE. Before joining the team in 2019, she specialized in food, drink and lifestyle content for numerous publications including, The Bold Italic, 7×7 and more. Contact her at


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