Platform responsibility should be at the heart of the vacation rental plan

An oceanfront vacation property at Mission Beach / Image via Shutterstock

In a 2019 article on the housing shortage in San Diego, Voice of San Diego reporter Andrew Keatts pointed out that the crisis did not happen overnight. And while Mayor Todd Gloria wants to increase construction of affordable housing, it takes time and there are ways to provide more housing now. Our housing shortage has been negatively affected by the proliferation of short-term vacation rentals in San Diego, which has been caused by a combination of San Diego’s long-standing failure to enforce existing regulations and “act first and apologize later“Strategy common to many companies in the gig economy.

Council President Jen Campbell has proposed a new ordinance setting out short-term vacation rental rules to reclaim some of the existing 16,000 units for long-term housing. It is an admirable goal. But there are two serious flaws in the proposed ordinance that would allow short-term rentals to continue to rampage in residential neighborhoods.

The proposed ordinance is based on the licensing of short-term rental “hosts” and a monitoring process focused on neighborhood complaints. There is no effective provision to eliminate unlicensed vacation rental hosts. The only way to ensure compliance with the proposed ordinance is to include a comprehensive reporting system with penalties for the platforms. This has been successfully implemented in San Francisco and other cities.

San Francisco has discovered the importance of platform accountability the hard way. It was not included in its original 2014 short-term rental order and as a result 9,600 short-term rentals were listed on the platform, according to AirBnB’s own account in court documents submitted. in 2016 in a case against the city. At that time, according to the San Francisco Short-Term Rental Bureau, there were only 1,600 registered short-term rental registrants. The problem of illegal short-term rentals has to a large extent been rectified with the introduction of platform liability provisions – including penalties.

Santa Monica took a similar platform liability approach after a Federal Court ruling. Boston, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Portland, Hawaii, and most recently Denver have all used similar approaches.

The shortcomings of the order proposed by Campbell can be filled by amendments that benefit from the experience and success of these jurisdictions. An amendment should add wording providing for the responsibility of the platform; stipulating that platforms can be fined for listing properties without proper authorization and may lose their right to do business in the city if they fail to comply. The other amendment is expected to remove the section of the current proposal that would allow the platforms to enter into unacceptable behind-the-scenes deals and special operational arrangements with the city without public scrutiny.

The propensity of AirBnB and other rental platforms to misbehave has been demonstrated in the United States and Europe. A recent report, for example, exposes the many ways short-term rental companies fail to cooperate with cities and fail to self-regulate. Without the two suggested amendments, Campbell’s proposal to regulate short-term rentals in San Diego lacks an enforcement mechanism that will prevent platforms from behaving inappropriately.

Filling in the gaps and making the platforms accountable for their business practices to the city will be much easier and more profitable than the Herculean task of verifying each licensed host, one by one, and relying on an app based on it. the complaints. The bigger question is: will the platforms agree or go after the city and, if so, will the city fight back?

Gary Wonacott is the past president of Mission Beach City Council.

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