What’s the Latest with Short Term Vacation Rentals in San Diego?

by on August 28, 2017 · 3 comments

in Ocean Beach

November 2016 City Council hearing on STVRs

By Frank Gormlie

It’s been two years now the City Council of San Diego has been debating what to do about short term vacation rentals. They’ll continue this debate at another hearing on the matter, October 23rd, the 6th hearing in those two  years.

At that hearing, the city planning department will probably present draft alternative measures based on three options it released in March of this year, plus it will hopefully address new draft ordinances – one by Councilwoman Barbara Bry and one by Councilman Chris Cate.

Bry’s proposal – the most promising – was released last week after a weekend of Op-Ed pieces in the San Diego Union-Tribune by her and by her colleagues Lorie Zafp and Cate. Zapf of course represents District 2 that includes OB.

Bry’s recommended regulations would sharply curtail short term rentals of private residences. They would allow homeowners to rent out only their primary residences on a short-term basis but for no more than 90 days a year. Bry believes this would eliminate the turning of single-family homes by absentee investors into “full-time mini-hotels in residential zones.”

In her Op-Ed, Bry wrote:

My proposal protects the rights of homeowners who wish to participate in home sharing by renting out a room in their home to help make ends meet. It further allows property owners to rent out their primary residence for up to 90 days per year if they want to go on vacation or make extra income during special events like Comic-Con. … 

While my plan preserves homeowners’ ability to rent out a room or even their entire primary residence, it prohibits absentee investors from commercializing single-family homes by turning them into full-time mini-hotels in residential zones.

To put it simply, I propose to enforce the current law that prohibits these short-term rentals in residential zones, and I believe that a short-term rental is any time period less than 30 days. We can uphold the current zoning law, maintain the character of our neighborhoods, consistently collect Transient Occupancy Taxes from both home sharing and legal whole-house rentals, and preserve our precious housing stock for families who live and work in San Diego. Simultaneously, we can offer San Diego visitors unique and affordable options for accommodations.

Even though Zapf has publicly endorsed Bry’s proposal, some observers doubt whether it will garner a Council majority.

Meanwhile, Cate, representing the 6th District, has his own ideas which have been drafted  into a proposed ordinance. While not favoring Bry’s proposal, his ideas include allowing vacation rentals citywide but with much stricter enforcement and escalating fines. He has stated:

“I want to make sure as a city we’re being able to meet expectations of our residents in terms of enforcement, and I don’t believe we can effectively ban rentals in residential zones and have that ban enforced.”

Both Bry and Cate’s proposals call for permit fees for all short-term rentals. Cate wants to see those fees used for the city’s enforcement of rentals. Bry told the U-T that she doesn’t believe it would be difficult to monitor the rental hosts who violate regulations once passed., saying, there’s now “… software cities are using that scan websites and can generate letters to properties to make sure they’re complying.”

It was in March when the city council committee on Smart Growth and Land Use took up three proposals on the rentals, yet could not reach a consensus, except in the case of permitting home sharing, where homeowners rent out spare bedrooms to visitors while maintaining the home as their primary residence. City staff was then directed to come up with alternative proposals based on the 3 options.

Lori Weisberg, at the U-T, broke them down thus:

The most lenient of three options the planning department offered up earlier this year for the rental of entire homes would allow them to operate in residential zones but would require ministerial permits, as would all the options.

The strictest proposed a minimum stay of 21 days, an option that had been proposed in the past by City Councilwoman Lorie Zapf, who now says she supports Bry’s current proposal.

A third option struck a middle ground, allowing vacation rentals but requiring a special permit for larger homes that have six or more bedrooms or accommodate more than 10 guests.

And it was in mid-March when San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott issued a memorandum of law advising the City Council and Mayor that short-term vacation rentals (STVR) are illegal in the city’s residential zones. Elliott wrote on March 15th:

“The City has a ‘permissive zoning ordinance.’ This means that any use that is not listed in the City’s zoning ordinance is prohibited. Short-term vacation rentals are not specifically defined, expressly permitted, or listed in any of the zone use categories, including residential or commercial.”

(Go here for the 2 page memo.)

Bry, criticized by Cate for bringing her proposal forth too late, stated:

“The council has been dealing with this issue before I got here, and the Smart Growth and Land Use Committee was deadlocked on how to deal with whole home rentals, so I think it’s just time to take this whole issue to the entire council. This has been vetted in the communities for the last two years.

“What’s changed, I think, is a wider appreciation that we need to provide more housing for San Diegans and second, that this is spreading into more neighborhoods.”

The main San Diego group fighting short term rentals, Save San Diego Neighborhoods, has not yet taken a position on these latest Council proposals.  Although Tom Coat, a co-founder, was quoted as being appreciative of Bry’s recommendations. He told the U-T:

“We’re talking a closer look at it, but we’re concerned that San Diego doesn’t have enough resources, because of the huge growth in the numbers of vacation rentals, to do adequate enforcement, so we’d like to see more concrete and better enforcement ideas in it..

“But we are ecstatic over the fact it would put a halt to the investor class of short-term rental operators. We’re really opposed to people coming in and buying up housing stock and converting it to hotels where they don’t live.”

Certainly, Ocean Beach has vetted the issue. See these past articles:




{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

nostalgic September 6, 2017 at 7:37 am

Tonight (September 6) at the Rec Center (Planning Board meeting at 6:00 pm) short term vacation rentals will be discussed. With a typical nightly rate of $200 (or more) so close to the beach, this equates to $6000 a month rent. High end runs $1000 a night on important dates (think Comi-con). If you are a renter, this will affect you some day if it does not already do so. If you live next door to one, you have stories of your own. The idea that these are “families trying to gain extra income by renting a spare bedroom” is not the reality.


Eric September 6, 2017 at 9:43 pm

Some cities up north in Sonoma County did a brilliant job with short term rentals. 30 day minimum. Its nice up there. The hotels and b&b’s benefit, neighbors benefit not having to deal with the transient indifferent visitors and people can still make a buck on their properties.


nostalgic September 7, 2017 at 7:59 am

Even the most restrictive regulations in other cities often permit residential B&Bs. This is the old English- style model, where the farmer rents out the extra bedroom to tourists, and serves them breakfast the next morning before they are on their way. If the owner/resident has to live with them, the “guests” are of a more tolerable variety for the neighbors, who may still be not crazy about the comings and goings, but it seems to work better than the complex lack of rules we have now.


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