Airbnb debate heats up with new proposal allowing short-term rentals

The short-term vacation rental debate heats up this week with the release of a four-member San Diego City Council proposal that would largely allow most home-sharing business to continue, though only with certain restrictions.

The proposal, written by Councilors Chris Ward, Scott Sherman, Mark Kersey and David Alvarez, differs sharply from a proposed order released last month by Councilor Barbara Bry that would allow landlords to rent only their primary residences – but not investment properties – on a short-term basis for no more than 90 days per year.

Next month, City Council will once again wrestle with the issue of regulating short-term vacation rentals, an issue that has plagued elected officials for 2½ years without resolution. It’s also one that has become more pressing with the growing popularity of online platforms like Airbnb and VRBO.

The last proposal probably comes closest to a consensus approach, although another board member must sign to reach a majority. While the proposed settlement would allow landlords to rent up to three properties on a short-term basis, a three-night minimum stay would be required in coastal areas of San Diego as well as neighborhoods designated as historic districts.

A series of escalating fines of up to $5,000 would be imposed for noise and nuisance violations, and in an effort to address the argument that short-term rentals deplete long-term housing stock, members council suggest a rental of $5 per night. fees that would be deposited into a new affordable housing fund.

Ward, Sherman, Kersey and Alvarez say in a memo released earlier this week that their suggested regulations seek to balance the concerns of residents who feel their neighborhoods have been overrun by mini-hotels with the desire of roommate hosts to earn additional income on their properties.

“As communities in San Diego, we’ve been debating this for a number of years and so far there’s been no hope of seeing a way forward,” said Ward, who leads the most recent initiative. “I understand where a lot is coming from on all sides, but unless we can address some of the challenges that we agree on – the impacts on the housing stock, on the quality of life in neighborhoods – the status quo will remain and it doesn’t work for anyone.

“I am completely fine with San Diegans being able to exercise their property rights, but I am absolutely opposed to investors taking over housing stock for immediate conversion to short-term rentals. We have therefore proposed a cooling-off period of one year during which you will not be able to apply for a permit unless you have owned a property for at least one year.

Bry counters that his is the only proposal that prevents neighborhoods “from being turned into permanent mini-hotels.”

Short-term rentals, which cover periods of less than 30 days, are largely unregulated in San Diego. City Attorney Mara Elliott issued an official notice earlier this year that such rentals are illegal because they are not identified anywhere in the city’s municipal code.

The planning department, in preparation for an October 23 hearing, has drawn up alternative measures based on three options it released earlier this year. These now range from the most permissive to one similar to Bry’s proposal that would limit rentals to primary residences and for no more than 90 days in a year.

The four-member board’s proposal drew a measured response this week from Airbnb, which praised them for “working toward comprehensive regulations that better define short-term rentals in San Diego.”

The home-sharing giant had been much more blunt in its assessment last month of Bry’s proposal, saying it would hurt hosts’ ability to use their homes to make ends meet.

Save San Diego Neighborhoods, a coalition of residents that fought to ban short-term rentals in single-family neighborhoods, immediately condemned the regulations proposed by Ward, Kersey, Sherman and Alvarez as a “disaster” for neighborhoods in the city.

“I can tell you people are alarmed and the opposition to this proposal will be overwhelming,” said Pacific Beach resident Tom Coat, co-founder of Save San Diego Neighborhoods. “I’ve never seen such fierce opposition to this because they realize it doesn’t protect our neighborhoods from outside investment.”

Meanwhile Councilor Chris Cate, who has pushed for a much more permissive approach he first introduced two years ago, said on Wednesday the Ward-led proposal was a welcome first step towards a consensus of the council, but he was not yet ready to lend his Support.

“I think it’s a good start because they come from a position where they allow people to participate in the short-term rental business instead of coming from the approach of how to ban certain elements of this industry,” Cate said. “Whatever we adopt, we have to meet the expectations of our residents through law enforcement, and we don’t want to make false promises that we can’t enforce if we have a ban.”

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