Ocean Beach – You Can’t Forget About Short Term Rentals

by on April 11, 2018 · 24 comments

in Ocean Beach

During the last Ocean Beach Town Council public meeting in late March, Board member Jon Carr – with tongue firmly in cheek – suggested that all the short term vacation rentals in OB be painted a lime green – that way he said we’d know how much impact they’re having on our community. Then they would be very visible, like the lime green bikes all around OB.

Much as we’d like to ignore it, the contentious issue of what to do with all the vacation rentals is still very much with us. Jon Carr knows, as the houses and an apartment building very close to his home in northwest Ocean Beach have been turning into the “short-termers”- and he complains he no longer knows his neighbors.

Short term rentals have had a very serious impact on this community, especially in the northwest quadrant of OB. This was demonstrated during the “Walk of Shame” event the OB Rag held last November, showcasing all the STVRs along Abbott Street.

The OB Rag and members and supporters of the OB Planning Board have been leading the opposition to the threats posed by these type of get-rich quick mini-hotels that have sprouted up all over the coast. The OB Town Council has also thrown its weight into the fight against them.

More than the noise, the constant partying, the increased trash and traffic, these mini-hotels threaten the housing stock, drive up long-term rents during a housing shortage, remove students and teachers from local schools and they destroy community.

In a recent Voice of San Diego piece, Lisa Halverstadt writes:

About 57,000 of the region’s homes are not housing San Diegans, according to a recent analysis.

Instead, they’re either vacation or second homes that often sit vacant, exacerbating the housing crisis because they’re unavailable to people who live and work here, or would like to.

Citing from a SANDAG study, Halverstadt states: “The conclusion: Nearly 5 percent of homes countywide may be second homes or vacation homes ….” with an estimated 25,788 such homes within the City of San Diego.

And short term vacation rentals are still not regulated. Over the last 3 plus years, the San Diego City Council has failed three times to come up with any policy worthy of a majority on the Council, while the Mayor has refused to enforce any regulating, and while the City Attorney has declared them illegal in residential zones under the Municipal Code. The most recent “failure” was back in mid-December (see the VOSD take)

With the issue to probably come before the City Council again in June, it’s all in Mayor Faulconer’s hands. He has to come up with a compromise that will satisfy a majority of Councilmembers.

Thus forces for and against STVRs will again mobilize their supporters for the City Council hearing, as they have for the last 3 years. (And once again, we’ll see Airbnb hand out free lunches to their folks.)

One of the major opposition groups has been San Diego for Safe Neighborhoods – they’ve maintained an uncompromising stance on allowing STVRs into residential neighborhoods – based on the City Attorney determination about the legality. Will they be outraged by any mayoral compromise?

Another group has also emerged in the fight, the San Diego Coalition of Town Councils. It’s described as:

a growing group of town council presidents who represent more than a quarter of a million San Diegans. Alarmed last fall that a City Council proposal would open their neighborhoods to unchecked vacation rental investments and even more rapid short-term rental (STR) growth than their communities already have suffered, the leaders came together to form the San Diego Coalition of Town Councils.

One of the member groups of the coalition is something called Neighborhoods for Residents. Here is a statement on their webpage:

Following the surprising and welcomed rejection on December 12 of a proposal on which 4 Council members had signed off and another supported, what is the next step for the short-term vacation rental (STR) issue in San Diego?

Much is going on behind the scenes. The issue may re-surface as soon as March in City Council. This time, Mayor Kevin Faulconer is engaged. So, too, is Councilmember Barbara Bry.

Neighborhoods for Residents (NFR) has joined the San Diego Coalition of Town Councils in urging support for Bry’s proposal, which is based on
the plan she presented on Dec. 12, as well as a compromise.

To NFR, two principles are needed for a successful STR ordinance:

1) The protection of our neighborhoods and scarce residential housing stock from an over-saturation of STRs.

2) The protection of a peaceful home environment for individual neighbors via a strong 24/7, web-based enforcement policy.

Tom Coat is the founder of Neighborhoods for Residents, and in a recent San Diego Union-Tribune opinion piece, he offered a compromise:

Allow unlimited home-sharing (owners present). Permit whole-home, owner-absent STRs, but with community-based limits that protect neighborhoods and scarce residential housing stock from an oversaturation of vacation rentals.

Provide effective enforcement. One option is to base enforcement on a 24-7, interactive, web-based permitting system that would encourage citizens to partner with the city in reporting violations.

What this all means – is Ocean Beach cannot forget about this issue – and we must take Jon Carr’s warning. Paint all the short term rentals lime green.

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Rebecca April 11, 2018 at 1:16 pm

I would like to share an email I sent to Lorie Zapf’s office about 4 weeks ago (I have not heard back on this):

Conrad,

I am sure both you and Lorie have already heard an earful on this topic but I would like to share my feelings and experience on this for what it’s worth.

I see nothing wrong with a homeowner using Airbnb for what I believe its original use/intention was…sharing your home from time to time with travelers or even home swapping or opening your home to travelers when you are out of town. My fiancé and I have a home in Ocean Beach and we have periodically (I believe 4-5 times total in the last couple years) rented one of our rooms to carefully screened vacationers. It has been such a rewarding experience to meet people from all parts of the world and walks of life. We have made some actual friendships out of this. We don’t do it for the money but more we feel it is a unique experience and enjoy showing out-of-towners our unique, quirky little beach town. I have stayed out of the debate because I see nothing wrong with responsible vacation rental practices.

Just over 6 months ago, we had some really great neighbors that were kicked out when the owners decided to sell. We were sad to see them go but excited to meet our new neighbors. The new neighbors purchased, I met the wife as we had just come home from the hospital and I explained we would be home during the days for a while while my fiance was recovering. The wife explained they would be doing some renovations and hoped it wouldn’t be too disruptive during his recovery. She was very sweet and we were happy to have them as neighbors. We knew the sale price of the house and were surprised to learn she was young and a student and her husband was deployed military. This house was sold at a really high price…we were a little surprised they could afford it plus the massive renovations they did on the house. We were frankly, pretty surprised anyone would pay that much for it. It is a tiny house on a tiny lot with no view. We felt it was very overpriced as we had just had our home appraised about a year or two prior. We assumed they had some money from family perhaps? Good for them. They seemed like they would be great neighbors so we were excited. Then she finally admitted to me several months in, after the massive renovations, that the house was going to be a vacation rental. I was very disappointed, mostly because I was excited to have a nice new neighbor and instead what we have now are new strangers showing up every weekend. I must admit that all of the renters have been well-behaved so far aside from a few loud nights and other than it being a little odd not knowing who “belongs” on our block so it is hard to tell if there is crime or anything nefarious going on. I really have no problem with it other than being bummed that I don’t have a nice neighbor to chat with on a regular basis.

After thinking about it a little deeper, however, it really did start to bother me and let me tell you why that is. It is my belief that what happened next door is happening on many blocks all over OB, PB, North Park, Downtown, you name it. All of the “hot” neighborhoods. The only way these high home sales prices pencil for these buyers is the expectation/reliance of ultra-high vacation rental income. Essentially, houses in San Diego are being priced and sold almost as if on the commercial hotel market. This is artificially inflating our already high home prices as well as devastating our rental market and driving renters out east or wherever they can afford; gradually making our neighborhoods full of transient strangers. The prices are not sustainable by our city-wide earnings. It is of great concern to me that these artificially inflated home prices are going to create a localize housing market crisis isolated just to San Diego (or other markets with similar STVR abuse). I am concerned for our city, our neighborhood of Ocean Beach, and our own home’s value in the event of a market bubble or correction. I really hope Lorie can help us do something about these market vultures without punishing everyone else who is not negatively affecting the market and still want the right to rent their home or a room out periodically like we do. I think at the very least we should stop people from buying homes specifically for the purpose of converting it to a STVR. Perhaps include language in the standard CAR agreements used in real estate transactions? I am not sure what the solution is but doing nothing is not working and the problem is getting worse by the month.

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Frank Gormlie Frank Gormlie April 11, 2018 at 7:30 pm

Rebecca – may the OB Rag repost your comment?

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Rebecca April 12, 2018 at 7:13 am

Sure Frank, no problem.

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bo bo April 11, 2018 at 3:42 pm

The problem is that many opposed to STRs want a complete ban without compromise. It’s those that are derailing a reasonable and actually good proposal. So out of stubborn ideology, they’ll keep the problem from being solved because they won’t (and can’t) get 100% of their demands.
I’m opposed to STRs too but as a pragmatist, I see efforts for a complete ban as not only a waste of energy but also hurting whatever progress we can make to solve this problem. It IS solvable, but we need reasonable voices to stand out. Not those on the fringes.

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Chris April 12, 2018 at 8:48 am

Based on responses I have posted on this topic, I am under the impression that no one is opposed to people using AIRBNB/VBRO for home sharing purposes. The problem is people buying a property and using it for full time STVRs.

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bo bo April 12, 2018 at 2:04 pm

Agreed Chris, on responses to this topic, I’ve seen reasonable ideas. But if you read social media and other articles, there seems to be a very large, over-sized voice calling for a complete 100% ban of STVRs regardless of the situation or presence of homeowners. This makes any progress towards a solution almost impossible – making the situation even worse over time.

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triggerfinger April 12, 2018 at 6:29 pm

I disagree completely. In my experience, virtually everyone is ok with home-sharing.

The debate is about turning homes into full-time hotels with absentee hosts.

Many including Airbnb are making a strawman argument out of this, saying we are trying to stop poor Aunt Ethyl from listing a room in her house for supplemental income. But in reality nobody is opposed to that.

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Koert April 11, 2018 at 11:54 pm

bo bo, what neighbors actually want is reasonable enforcement of the zoning regulations that we all agreed to when we bought our homes.

We could have saved about 25% on the price of our home if we had been willing to live next to a hotel. Now, we have the worst of both worlds, the high price we paid for our house and the constant exposure to a gray-market hotel.

It’s actually vacation rental operators who are being unreasonable and insisting on having things exactly their way. If rentals were limited to 30-day minimums and if the primary use of the house had to be single family residential, the neighbor-against-neighbor conflicts would evaporate.

But, vacation rental owners insist that they “need” weekly rentals and multiple properties in order for their sketchy businesses to be profitable. Since when does the community have to change its ways to accommodate those who own several properties but still feel that they desperately “need” even more money?

Selfishness at its worst – privatize the profits and socialize the costs.

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bo bo April 12, 2018 at 2:18 pm

I agree Koert – those non-resident investor owners are the root-cause of this problem. And I fully support what you said in 3rd paragraph.
I truly believe that implementing the option for reasonable home-sharing with homeowners present, will eliminate the market demand that bring these investors here in the first place.
Imagine this: more full-time homeowners increase the inventory of AirBnB rentals. This drives DOWN the overnight price of rooms to rent – which makes the investment of these vacation-only properties a losing proposition.
The only reason why these vacation homes are in existence is because there is demand for them. There are 3 ways to reduce this demand:
1) increase the available hotel room inventory (which also decreases the room rates)
2) remove the desire for people to vacation and play in San Diego (not going to happen)
3) increase the inventory of AirBnB rooms available by on-site residents.

I believe a combination of # 1 & 3 are possible. Who is going to build a Holiday Inn Express on Abbot and Saratoga? You? Me? But we can allow reasonable use of existing homes by people who actually live here. They’ll compete with and drive out investors for AirBnB renters.

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Koert April 12, 2018 at 3:01 pm

bo bo, we’re eye-to-eye on 90% of this. But, my career in real estate analysis has shown me that coastal Southern California real estate does not follow simple supply and demand models. There is virtually unlimited demand for all types of housing and tourist accommodations, tempered only by price.

The Coastal Commission has a lot to say about affordable accommodations but they hypocritically show strong support for developers and vacation rental companies while doing nothing about increasing truly affordable accommodations in the form of public campgrounds and RV parks (many of which, these days, have small permanent cabins for rent).

Why would I be opposed to a vibrant Airbnb economy in primary residences? Because of what it does to the housing economy. When I was a kid, almost everyone I knew had a stay-at-home mom (sometimes a dad) and a few families had both spouses working so that they could enjoy a little “extra” money. But, as more spouses started working, that extra money became “normal” money and it wasn’t long before very few families could get by without both spouses working.

Same with running an Airbnb out of the house. As more and more families start using a spare bedroom or guesthouse as tourist lodging, that “extra” income is going to start affecting the price of homes. For example, instead of being priced as a three-bedroom house, that same property will be priced, and marketed, as a two-bedroom house plus a $2,500-$5,000 per month vacation rental business. In fact, Fannie Mae is already gearing up to count that income as a factor in qualifying for a loan.

The bottom line is that just as whole-house vacation rental properties can only be afforded by those who plan on using them as vacation rentals instead of family homes, it won’t be possible for anyone to buy that three bedroom house unless they use the extra room as a vacation rental.

Again, the practicalities of enforcement make this type of business almost impossible to regulate, so the fairest way to handle it is to let the neighbors decide whether they mind living next to it.

There are very strong arguments for the right to rent to permanent tenants and roommates, and weaker arguments for the right to rent one’s house out for short periods of time while on vacation, but there really is no good argument that we have a right to run any sort of ongoing transient lodging business out of a residential property, even if it’s just using one bedroom.

It just seems most fair to let the neighbors decide if their actual property rights are being infringed on by their neighbor’s mostly-imagined business rights.

Great conversation bo bo. Thanks!

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Chris April 12, 2018 at 9:02 am

I have zero confidence the city will solve this problem in any way shape or form. I know most won’t agree with this but perhaps the solution is for all permanent residents to collectively hit the STVR owners where it hurts the most (the pocket book). If you are a permanent OB resident living next to a full time vacation rental, make life miserable for the guests. Make it so they won’t want to come back and will encourage others not to. Hold louder parties than them. Be as obnoxious as possible. Be the kind of permanent resident that they as visitors did not bargain for being next to on their vacation. If they ask questions, give intentionally bad information (where is the best place to get _______, or how do you get to ________).
Here are some other tips: https://www.wikihow.com/Annoy-Your-Neighbor
Just a thought.

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Koert April 12, 2018 at 10:31 am

Chris, I’m always up for a little civil disobedience as long as it doesn’t drag me down to their level. Your article has some clever ideas and I think I’m going to move my exercise equipment to the front of the garage, maybe wearing a Speedo while I work out.

There are some other more direct tactics that are legal, moral, and ethical. First, contact the owner and let them know that you disapprove of vacation rentals in general because they are an ongoing nuisance, reduce the quality of life in the neighborhood, displace community members to make room for tenants, and throw an already volatile real estate market into sheer chaos.

Let them know that the most carefully screened guests are still an annoyance as they move in and out every week.

Let the owner know that you plan on doing everything possible to encourage them to rent with a 30-day minimum.

File formal land-use complaints with the city, stating that they are using the property for transient lodging and not as a single-family residence.

Meet the guests as you would any new neighbor and let them know that although they may be unwitting victims, vacation rentals have created conflict and they are not welcome here. Explain that normally you love showing tourists around but vacation rental operators have soured the neighbors’ attitude. Make it obvious that you are taking photos/videos of any parking, trash, crowd, partying irregularities.

Call the owner and management company at every slight disturbance. For example, even though playing music in the daytime is not a code violation, the owner should know every single time it impacts your life. When appropriate, call the police and/or code enforcement officials immediately. (Yes, the police do have more important things to attend to; that’s why they should be on our side when we object to vacation rentals putting us in the role of front desk clerks and them in the role of hotel security.)

A few days ago I noticed that a nearby Airbnb listing had their first review and the guests said the neighbors made it clear through comments and signs that weekly visitors are not welcome. I had nothing to do with it, but I guarantee that will hit the owner in the pocketbook!

How they act is their karma, how you react is your karma. I plan on staying my happy and cheerful self, even as I protest loudly.

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Chris April 12, 2018 at 11:53 am

Well my post is supposed to be tongue in cheek (which I assume you assumed), but I honestly think guests to any place they are visiting anyplace have a moral obligation to think of their impact. I’ve used Arnbnb a few times when vesting other cities, and always made a point not to uses it at a full time STVR but only for homefhare. Last time was in NYC and we stayed in an apartment where the occupant was with us the whole time. She was using Airbnb to supplement her rent, so this was her doing and not the property owner. Turned out great because my wife and I became actual friends with her. I know this isn’t realistic, but I kind of expect others to do the same and fair or unfair I look down on people who don’t. By that I mean people who stay somewhere and don’t think about these things.
“A few days ago I noticed that a nearby Airbnb listing had their first review and the guests said the neighbors made it clear through comments and signs that weekly visitors are not welcome. I had nothing to do with it, but I guarantee that will hit the owner in the pocketbook!”
That makes my point perfectly. BTW, I like the speedo idea. I think I would scare myself looking in the mirror at me in a speedo.

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Frank Gormlie Frank Gormlie April 12, 2018 at 12:46 pm

Koert – May we repost these suggestions as an article w/o your name?

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Koert April 12, 2018 at 2:09 pm

Frank, I’d be honored; edit to any extent you like, and feel free to use my name if you want – maybe it will get me back in touch with some old surfing buddies! :)

The Facebook Vacation Rental Watch page is sort of a clipping service for vacation rental news. We’d love to have you join and post links to the OB Rag! Wish we had something like this in Ventura, but the real estate industry leads our city around by the nose.

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retired botanist April 12, 2018 at 11:07 am

Excellent suggestions, Koert :-)

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Koert April 12, 2018 at 11:22 am

I spent part of my life in San Diego but now live in Ventura, where we are facing exactly the same vacation rental conflicts.

Here’s a comment I just posted on the Facebook Vacation Rental Watch page. I’d be very interested in hearing any criticisms or suggestions.

Very recently, several major localities have announced significant changes in their vacation rental policies. Most are leaning towards limiting vacation rentals to owner-occupied primary residences, with a cap on the number of days the property can be rented.

That sounds great, particularly if the cap is based on the length of holidays a typical homeowner might take.

But I’ve always thought that an easier fix would be to simply require a 30-day minimum stay. I’ve talked to several travelers who live in Santa Barbara and one couple who lives in Ventura, and their thirty-day minimum works out great. The neighbors are happy, the owners make considerably more money for their furnished rental, don’t have to pay management fees, cleaning fees, occupancy taxes or have a permit, and only have to screen one guest family, usually known repeat visitors who are close friends with their “summer” neighbors.

And, most importantly, the 30-day minimum fits with existing zoning laws and could be enacted with a simple policy change, not requiring any additional expense or new laws.

But, when affordable housing is considered maybe a more comprehensive strategy might be to just forget about trying to regulate vacation rentals (which is difficult and expensive) and just implement strict rent control measures, which would apply evenly to all properties.

Following the Ventura fires, our neighborhood is housing numerous fire victims who are paying full nightly vacation rental rates ($250-$700 per night) on year-long leases. Other vacation rentals are conducting business as usual, even with our severe housing shortage. (Some even kicking out fire victims when the summer season begins.)

Rent control would take care of almost all of the problems. It would give family home buyers the upper hand over investors and would ensure affordable housing for community members.

If someone really believed in all the claimed benefits of vacation rentals, they could continue with their weekly rentals, except at a rate closer to “normal” rents, perhaps about $75-$125 per night.

Rent control can be a mess – but in this case, if properly administered, it would clean up the bigger messes that are brought by an investor-controlled real estate market. We need to bring power back to the family homeowner. Housing is a fundamental right.

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SoCal visitor and fan April 12, 2018 at 12:54 pm

Beaches are for vacations and surfing. ‘Community’ is best found in a place that is not as extremely desirable as a SoCal beach.

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Koert April 12, 2018 at 3:27 pm

Even if I’m not fond of crowds, I’m all for hotels and campgrounds that let visitors enjoy our beaches. They are always welcome and sometimes we even invite them to our homes.

But, I have a strong distaste for vacation rentals that allow someone to pretend like they’re a member of the community without taking on any of the responsibilities or accountability that come with being an actual member of the community.

It’s the difference between going on the Disney Matterhorn ride and climbing the real Matterhorn. One is perfect for superficial enjoyment and the other is a meaningful part of an authentic life.

“Which way is the dog beach?”
“Well, it’s not really a dog beach and you’re going to blow it for everyone else if you abuse the privilege.”
“That’s cool, I’ll take my chances since I’m out of here in a couple of days anyway.”

“Excuse me, you can’t really park there because the kids will have to swing out into traffic to get by.”
“F*** you, I paid for this house for the week.”

“Hey man, please don’t take pictures of my wife washing the car in the driveway.”
“Don’t sweat it, I’ve been taking pictures of you guys for the last three days.”

“Pardon me, maybe you didn’t notice but you ran into our car when you were maneuvering into the driveway”
“Give me a break, I need to watch this soccer match on TV. And besides, you can’t prove it was me.”

These are actual conversations and I’ve got a thousand more. It takes longer than a couple of days to get used to new neighbors and we get to start over almost every week, all for the benefit of a handful of greedy out-of-town investors and bargain-hunting tourists. You may be able to get away with staying here, but you can’t buy your way into our community.

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Chris April 12, 2018 at 5:14 pm

““Excuse me, you can’t really park there because the kids will have to swing out into traffic to get by.”
“F*** you, I paid for this house for the week.””

THAT would be throw the gloves off if anty visitor said something like that to me.

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OBKID April 16, 2018 at 11:51 am

It’s called a hotel or motel ya cheap skate! and this is OUR COMMUNITY- maybe you have no idea what that is coming from whatever bland suburb you belong. But 1) You’re welcome for having a great time in OB, and 2) go ruin some other community next year.

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Ol OB Hippie April 12, 2018 at 8:47 pm

Thank you Jon Carr. Thank you for reminding us of our priorities.

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OBKID April 16, 2018 at 11:48 am

Mark those greedy pigs up!! Honestly, just destroying OB and other communities.

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Michael Jacobs April 19, 2018 at 12:36 pm

Palm Springs has a Vacation Rental enforcement division. I think we need one too. http://www.palmspringsca.gov/government/departments/vacation-rentals

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