Improved enforcement. A “three strikes” rule. An overall ban on whole-house rentals.
These were some of the suggestions that came forward (some repeatedly) during the standing-room-only town hall meeting on short-term vacation rentals at La Jolla Community Center, Aug. 30. District 1 City Council member Barbara Bry has drafted a Short-Term Occupancy and Home-Sharing Ordinance, and she hosted the town hall to collect community feedback.
Over the course of an hour of public testimony, residents from up and down the San Diego coastline shared short-rental horror stories, including descriptions of wild parties, night-long noise and feeling insecure about having new neighbors every weekend.
Conversely, those who use online platforms such as AirBnB.com VRBO.com and HomeAway.com shared how renting their houses has helped pay for mortgages, college tuition for loved ones, and allowed them to continue to live in San Diego, despite rising rents. On AirBnB for the week of Sept. 8-16, there were 128 whole house rentals available in La Jolla (as of Sept. 5).
Bry’s draft ordinance would allow for home-sharing (renting an area of one’s property) if the owner is on-site. “This includes a room in your house or a granny flat if you are in the main house or if you are in the granny flat and they are in the main house,” Bry told the crowd.
Among the additional changes, the ordinance defines “short-term occupancy” as “any rented or leased residence for any time period of less than 30 days”; imposes a 90-day annual maximum on short-term rentals (which some have equated to 45 weekends in a 52-week year); and requires renters to apply for a permit, pay a fee and inform their neighbors that their property is available for short-term rentals.
The seven-page draft ordinance can be found at sandiego.gov/citycouncil/cd1 under “News.”
No mini hotels
“What my draft ordinance prohibits is investors buying single-family homes in residential neighborhoods and turning them into de facto mini-hotels,” Bry said.
Before Bry takes her draft ordinance to City Council in October, she said she wanted to collect feedback for changes, suggestions and recommendations. A repeated community concern was the lack of enforcement of current noise ordinances and illegal behavior, and whether adding even more regulations would complicate enforcement.
Enforcing the rules
La Jollan Craig Thompson reported there is a renter near his house on a weekly basis. “There are parties every weekend. You call the police, nobody shows up. You call Code Enforcement, nobody shows up. We need to stop whole house rentals,” he said.
Added La Jollan Catharine Douglass, “The San Diego Police Department is at critical staffing levels and cannot respond to infractions. Taxpayer dollars should not cover enforcement for irresponsible homeowners making money off their homes that do not manage them properly.”
Another speaker called the addition of a 90-day maximum “an enforcement nightmare.”
“Enforcement is a big issue,” Bry acknowledged. “I believe the Mayor is waiting for the City Council to reach a consensus on (short-term vacation rental regulations) and then we can push him to enforce them. My draft ordinance includes a $100 annual (enforcement) fee, and then we’ll see what it costs to enforce, in terms of how the fee gets set for later years. The fee is for anyone who rents their house or a room in their house,” she said.
Tom Coat, president of the anti-short-term vacation rental organization Save San Diego Neighborhoods, argued that the solution includes, but goes beyond, enforcement. “We’d love to have the laws enforced, but at the least, let us work to bring about three protections on which I believe we can all support: 1) The protection of homeowners living in their homes to legally earn income by home-sharing; 2) the protection for neighbors to have the City quickly end any abuses that may arise; and 3) the protection of residential neighborhoods to remain residential neighborhoods.
“Think about this last protection. San Diego has been in a housing crisis for 15 years, there are many causes, but converting houses into investor-owned mini-hotels … undoubtedly worsens this crisis.”
In support of rentals
With some donning green shirts or holding signs, those who rent their houses — either in part or entirety — spoke about the economic benefits to themselves and the La Jolla business climate.
Julie Richardson said eliminating whole house rentals would “hit a lot of people who depend on this income,” and that she used the money generated from her short-term rentals to put her son through medical school.
Others commented on the wave of visitors that stay in houses because they don’t want to “have an $18 cocktail at a hotel,” but shop at La Jolla businesses and eat at La Jolla restaurants.
Other who rent their houses insisted they are responsible people who thoroughly vet their tenants and charge an additional fee if these tenants do not behave, and further, they leave their phone numbers with neighbors in the event there is a loud party or illegal behavior.
Hoping to strike a balance, those opposed to short-term rentals advocated for a three-strike system if renters do not screen their guests (yielding inappropriate or disruptive behaviors) or if loud parties are repeatedly reported at one house. After three strikes, that homeowner’s ability to rent their house would be revoked.
A short-term rental draft ordinance was last heard in December 2015, spearheaded by District 2 City Council member Lorie Zapf. When heard at the San Diego Planning Commission that month, a six-hour public testimony period included various concerns about the language of the ordinance. Planners determined the draft needed to be majorly rewritten before they could support the contents.
In November 2016, when Bry was on the City Council campaign trail, she promised to draft a short-term vacation rental ordinance that could garner community and City support. As part of her effort, she requested San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott issue a legal opinion.
On March 15, 2017, Elliott determined the City Municipal Code doesn’t allow short-term vacation rentals in single-family residential zones. “The City has a ‘permissive zoning ordinance,’ ” her opinion reads, “This means that any use that is not listed in the City’s zoning ordinance is prohibited. Short-term rentals are not specifically defined, expressly permitted, or listed in any of the zone use categories, including residential or commercial.”
The most recent ordinance is supposed to go before the City Council in October, tentatively Oct. 23, but Bry noted the importance of compromise and communication in the meantime.
“This has been a two-year battle with no consensus,” she said. “The political reality is that there are nine members of the City Council, I am only one vote. I am working very closely with Council member Zapf, but we need three more votes (for this to pass). I ask for your help … talk to the other City Council members. I’m going to need your help to get the Council to agree to a meaningful compromise.”
Reach City Council members citycouncil
Reach Barbara Bry at (619) 236-6611 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Reach the draft ordinance at sandiego.gov/citycouncil/cd1 under “News”