San Diego is home to more than 12,000 properties being used as short-term vacation rentals, according to one estimate, but city councilors and some community members believe the city doesn’t have clear land-use rules to regulate them.
In response, a City Council committee has tasked city staff with drafting an ordinance that would apply to the rooms and homes that locals are offering as rentals through companies such as Airbnb and VRBO.
Because city code does not define short-term vacation rentals as a term or land-use category, council members want an ordinance that provides a clear definition and separate-use category.
Councilman Chris Cate has recommended short-term rentals be defined as the occupancy of a residence for a period of less than 30 days.
He would allow short-term rentals in all of or a portion of a property if the owner met a number of criteria, including posting a 24/7 local contact person responsible for the conduct on the site and adhering to reasonable occupancy standards.
Repeat violators of city codes could face the revocation of their ability to host short-term visitors, according to Cate’s proposal.
He has called his plan “a balanced proposal that supports economic growth while maintaining the quality of life in our neighborhoods.”
Councilwoman Lorie Zapf, chairwoman of the Smart Growth and Land Use committee that is seeking more clarity in city regulations, wants to see owner-occupied single-family units and non-owner occupied dwellings treated differently.
She has proposed a three-week minimum stay be required for non-owner occupied units in single-family zones, unless the property owner obtains a discretionary permit.
Zapf, who represents beach communities that have been a hotspot for short-term rentals, also has suggested that there be no minimum stay required in owner-occupied single dwelling units or in any multifamily housing zones.
“I believe there is a way to allow short-term vacation rentals within our city, but it is imperative that we protect our single-family residential zones in particular,” Zapf said at a committee hearing.
The Smart Growth and Land Use Committee voted May 29 to have city staff develop an ordinance based on feedback from council members and dozens of members of the public who addressed the panel during meetings on the topic earlier this year.
The process to craft an ordinance will be a lengthy one.
Once city officials produce a draft, it will receive mix of community input, including from the Technical Advisory Committee, Code Monitoring Team and Community Planners Committee, before it makes it back to the council committee and, ultimately, the full council.
In the near term, the Smart Growth committee requested that the city’s enforcement efforts be stepped up to address trash, noise and other nuisance complaints stemming from short-term rentals.
Meanwhile, a group named Save San Diego Neighborhoods is calling on the city to enforce the rules already on the books, which they believe prohibit short-term rentals of entire homes, as opposed to room sharing, in residential zones.
The grassroots group asserts that under the current municipal code, home rentals should be considered "visitor accommodations" -- uses that provide lodging or a combination of lodging, food and entertainment, primarily to visitors and tourists.
They are not allowed in almost all residential zones.
If the city maintains that the home rentals are not visitor accommodations, the group highlights that uses not specifically listed in the code are not permitted in residential areas, either.
Save San Diego Neighborhoods has retained attorney John Thickstun and is considering suing the city if it doesn’t crack down on the alleged illegal home rentals.
“The new ordinance is not necessary. This is an enforcement and policing issue,” said Thickstun, a partner at Patton Thickstun, APC.
City Attorney Jan Goldsmith's office has pointed to a 2007 memo produced under Goldsmith’s predecessor that concluded no past or present zoning regulations prohibited short-term vacation rentals.
“Here, current and prior ordinances have been consistently interpreted to allow short-term rentals,” Gerry Braun, Goldsmith’s spokesman, said in a prepared statement.
The city attorney’s office will advise the City Council during the process to develop an ordinance related to short-term vacation rentals, as it does with updates to any ordinance, Braun said.