Opinion: the city turns a blind eye as urgently needed housing becomes Airbnb “mini-hotels”
San Diego is inundated with a new wave of short-term vacation rentals as building owners rent apartments as short-term vacation units.
This is in addition to the 16,000 single-family homes in San Diego that our city auditor estimates are currently being used as short-term vacation rentals. So here we are, drastically reducing our housing stock and artificially inflating rents for San Diego, in the midst of a historic housing crisis.
Our city attorney has declared short-term vacation rentals in residential areas illegal according to a memo dated March 15, 2017.
It is time to apply these laws.
It’s more than a beach community issue. A recent day on Sonder.com Website, a two-bedroom apartment at the Millennium in Mission Valley was listed for $ 395 per night for the first weekend in August. At Louisiana in North Park, apartments were priced between $ 208 and $ 274. Sonder’s competitors are Domio, Stay Alfred and Barsala.
According to Techcrunch, Sonder.com has raised more than $ 400 million in funding with a valuation of over $ 1 billion. They have thousands of units available all over North America and Europe. Investors aim to be the next Hilton in such rentals.
These new mega-versions of short-term vacation rentals can more easily bypass notices, governance, and regulations while operating outside of applicable law. They are also less expensive than comparable hotel rooms. They take up space in existing condos and apartments where it can be more difficult to identify than in a single family home.
These buildings have been given permits to function as living units for San Diego residents, and not as hotel rooms for tourists.
How widespread is this? We do not know.
Neighborhoods already hijacked by Sonder rentals include La Jolla, North Park, Little Italy, Downtown, and Mission Valley.
Let’s put this in perspective.
In 2018, the city of San Diego issued just under 10,000 building permits for new housing. We are taking steps to reduce fees, streamline permits and allow greater density around transit.
Housing experts say that if we build more units, prices will drop or at least stabilize. But turning many more multi-family units into short-term rentals at higher prices can artificially inflate the prices of all other units. Additionally, our lack of enforcement means that investors will continue to take single-family homes and condominiums and turn them into mini-hotels. We’re just playing a game of Whack-a-mole.
We have tried to be reasonable. Last year, I led the effort to push through legislation allowing unlimited home sharing in a primary residence and allowing residents to rent out their primary residence for up to 180 days a year in the short term (less than 30 days at a time). It wasn’t enough for Airbnb and other vacation rental platforms. They spent a fortune and made misleading statements to collect referendum signatures, and we were forced to rescind our order.
I am not attacking house sharing, the possibility of renting a room in your main residence if you are there to supervise.
As we live in a housing crisis, more and more valuable units are becoming short-term vacation rentals. This unfortunate trend will continue until we act. Rents will continue to skyrocket. Our infrastructure is already overwhelmed.
I urge the mayor and the city attorney to uphold the law. Now.