Short-term rentals draw ire of neighbors when used for parties

By Dave Schwab

An attempt to rent out the same home MTV rented a year ago to film “The Real World,” reality show on Chelsea Avenue in Bird Rock for a Cinco de Mayo party, has rekindled debate over short-term vacation rentals.

Recently, Chelsea Avenue neighbors were surprised to discover a Groupon-like website advertising a 21-and-over, Cinco de Mayo party at the “MTV house” from 7 to 10 p.m. this May 5. The ad offered valet parking and requested guests attend in sexy cocktail attire.

For some residents, like Mike Costello, it brought back unwelcome memories of the battle outraged neighbors fought a year ago against MTV’s paying $45,000 a month to use the 6,845-square-foot oceanfront home to shoot its show.

“It’s become a problem as these short-term rentals are highly disruptive to the neighborhood,” said Costello, adding such rentals are being used for overnight or weekend parties or as corporate retreats. “This is distinctly opposed to a person leasing a house to a family that occupies the house for a short-term,” he said.

Costello pointed to mini-dorm ordinances as one law on the books that ought to be used to prevent inappropriate vacation rentals.

“The mini-dorm ordinance says you can’t have six or more unrelated adults living in one location for more than 30 days,” he said. ‘With the Bird Rock MTV house last year, it was 7 or 8 unrelated individuals using the home for 90 days.

“The city basically gave them carte-blanche exempting them from noise and lighting restrictions and allowing them to have unpermitted valet parking.”

Though MTV was allowed to continue filming, neighbors in negotiations between the city and show producers were able to exact some concessions to add police security and restricted lighting, noise and operating hours during the shoot.

Tipped off by neighbors’ complaints, First District City Councilwoman Sherri Lightner’s office has interceded in the MTV house reuse issue.

“We’re issuing a civil penalty notice to the owner informing them the (advertised) event is not a permitted use,” said Bob Vacchi, city deputy director of the Development Services Department overseeing neighborhood code compliance. “They can’t get a permit to hold a Cinco de Mayo party.”

Vacchi discussed the rules governing short-term vacation rentals.

“In a single-family zone, there is no regulation that says you can’t rent out a house as a short-term vacation rental  to use for residential purposes for less than a week,” Vacchi said. “You could rent it for the weekend.”

Use of such rentals is only called into question when it’s not primarily residential.

“The problem we get into is when people hold other events at these places, such as companies setting up parties and selling tickets, where the sole reason people go to the house is for that party,” Vacchi said. “We consider that to be more of a commercial use, and you can’t do that when it’s in a residential zone.”

When short-term rentals are used for commercial purposes, Vacchi said homeowners are warned before being assessed civil penalties starting at $2,500 per day. Warnings are usually enough, he said.

Ozstar De Jourday, a Coldwell Banker La Jolla Realtor who works with vacation rentals, noted the market has been booming. “When we started up eight years ago there were 29 houses on the market,” said de Jourday. “Today there are more than 330.”

De Jourday said short-term vacation rentals can be lucrative for homeowners depending on economic conditions.

“In summer you can make three or four times the amount you normally rent for,” he said pointing out a year’s worth of rent can be accrued in a season.

There’s also a lot of potential in La Jolla for vacation rentals, said de Jourday, noting many La Jollans’ homes are second homes lived in only part-time.

A few years ago when the recession began, de Jourday said fewer people were  traveling and the bottom fell out of the short-term rental market. But the market has rebounded in a big way.

“All of 2011 (rentals) was amazing and the start of this year is phenomenal,” de Jourday said. “We don’t have enough product right now. We’re completely booked for the next two months at least.”

De Jourday said vacation rentals are attractive to the high-end traveler for many  reasons.

“You have a nice kitchen, a yard,” he said. “It’s a great alternative to a hotel in an area that is a vacation paradise.”

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