Those who live or own property in Tahoe are fortunate enough to share in a place so beautiful and serene it was once seriously considered for national park status. Private property in Tahoe often includes spectacular views, frequent wildlife and convenient access to high-quality outdoor recreation.
Property ownership in a place as special as Tahoe comes with responsibilities as well as rights. Tahoe has two special designations that make it different from owning property in any other jurisdiction. 1) The region is protected by a Compact between the states of California and Nevada that created special environmental goals to preserve this national treasure and gave the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency the authority to restrict development in order to meet those goals. 2) The region is an Outstanding National Resource Water, a very rare designation under the Environmental Protection Agency that prevents any further degradation of the lake’s water.
Some of the responsibilities of property owners in Tahoe include installing erosion and runoff control measures called best management practices, often referred to as “BMPs,” installing defensible space to protect against fire, preserving old growth trees, installing bear-proof trash containers, and complying with development restrictions.
Why are BMPs so important?
Property owners at Tahoe are mandated to install BMPs around their homes and businesses. BMPs are meant to help decrease runoff and pollution into Lake Tahoe by encouraging rain and snowmelt to infiltrate into the soil. Each property has different runoff issues, but typical BMPs include planting native plants, installing catchment basins in driveways and under eves, placing mulch on bare dirt, and placing a layer of stones under decks.
BMPs can replace pavement
with beauty and function.
Why is defensible space so important?
Part of living in a forested community is living with the risk of wildfire. Catastrophic wildfire can be devastating to the community, ecosystem and the lake. Property owners are required to do their part to protect their community and forests from wildfire by keeping their property defensible. This includes clearing flammable forest debris nearest to the home and removing dead and down trees. To protect Lake Tahoe, it's best to leave a thin layer of pine needle duff over bare soil, but not within a few feet of the home. Defensible space and BMPs can work together.
For a free site evaluation and information, visit the Nevada Fire Safe Council, which serves both California and Nevada communities at the lake.
Humanely Deterring Bears
Tahoe’s black bears are smart, curious and formidable foragers. They have become accustomed to eating trash left out for collectors. When property owners are irresponsible about securing their trash or other bear attractants, bears have been known to break into houses, causing considerable property damage.
All jurisdictions in Tahoe require bear-proof trash containers. Low-cost plastic containers are on sale at many hardware stores. Higher-cost metal containers are required on all new construction.
To learn more about how to safely and humanely deter bears, visit the Bear League.
Preserving old-growth trees
As part of defensible space, property owners may remove trees 14 inches in diameter or less without a permit, unless the tree is in a stream zone. Removing trees larger than 14 inches requires a permit from your local fire agency. Tahoe’s native trees, like the Jeffrey Pine, are fire resistant and provide important wildlife habitat once they are full grown. If good defensible space is in place and ladder fuels like shrubs and tree branches are trimmed properly, it's good for the lake and Tahoe's ecosystem to leave old-growth trees be.
Most property in Tahoe comes with a development right, but the amount of allowable development, called “coverage,” varies depending on the type of land. Meadows and wetlands are considered sensitive lands, so development is limited to 1-3 percent on that type of property. Other lands come with higher development potential, up to 30 percent. Owners of single-family developable lots must purchase or otherwise acquire a second building right, called an “allocation,” to build a home. During periods of high demand, there have been lotteries and waiting lists for such allocations. Another way to acquire an allocation is by tearing town a blighted home.
A common fallacy in Tahoe is that garages and decks are illegal. Most property owners are now able to build garages and make additions, if they follow the rules. If a property owner wants to build more than is allowed on their lot, they may purchase additional development potential from the two state land conservancies, which acquire and retire coverage on sensitive lands throughout the basin.
Some landowners at Tahoe do not follow development restrictions, which exacerbates Tahoe’s water quality problems. They build permanent structures without the proper permits. Serious fines have been levied for such infractions. The minimum fine from the TRPA is $5,000.
Following the rules means protecting the lake. Please, do your part to Be Blue.