May 1 Is Deadline for Complying with San Diego’s New Vacation Rental Law — But STVR Landlords Aren’t Biting

by on April 26, 2023 · 7 comments

in Ocean Beach

Map of Airbnb rentals, 2022

Monday, May 1st is fast approaching. It’s the City of San Diego’s deadline for complying with the new short-term rental regulations. But there’s been a lot less licenses issued than the city anticipated.

Remember this whole plan? It was concocted by Councilmember Jen Campbell and her staff in the great “compromise” with a billion-dollar home-share corporation and a local union that represents hotel service workers. It was going to be the end-all arrangement and a final solution to the “wild west” atmosphere that permeated the STVR crisis at the coast for years.

The new plan for vacation rentals was going to fund itself and provide city staff and resources for its enforcement. And that was the crucial element, right? Enforcement. All the words on paper and in policies are great, except when it gets down to ensure the law is kept by those folks and companies who rent out their units in the Airbnb plus market. It’s the enforcement – it always has been.

And the city expected that demand would be so high it would have to conduct a lottery for doling out licenses. But that didn’t happen (except for Mission Beach) because STVR landlords aren’t biting.

For some reason, or multiple reasons, home sharers and those STVR companies have not rushed to the city to get their licenses.

Were the original estimates of vacation rentals just off by a quarter?  Has the market changed in the meantime, and now owners are opening up their rentals for long-term leases?

Are the numbers of “bad-actors” — as Campbell likes to call them — increasing, you know, the scofflaws who skirt the regulations and rent their places under the wire, so to speak. Is there a large and increasing “black market” in vacation rentals?

Are landlords who’ve been skirting the rules all along and haven’t been caught, just continuing to do what they’ve done? What’s going on?

So, now with a budget at three-quarters of what it was supposed to be, the city is all set to begin the program on May 1.

Lori Weisburg, at the U-T, [paywall exists] reports:

As of April 12, the city had issued 4,586 two-year licenses for those hosts operating whole-home rentals, according to the City Treasurer’s office. …

The City Treasurer reports on its website that there are still 1,915 licenses available citywide, except for Mission Beach …  For the rest of the city, 3,504 licenses were issued for whole-home rentals, bringing the grand total to 4,586. Hosts must pay a fee of $1,000 for a two-year license.

While licenses are also required for home-sharing and for those part-time hosts who operate rentals for less than 20 days out of the year, the number of such licenses is unlimited, and the fee is far more modest, ranging from $100 to $225. In all, 1,766 such licenses were issued for those two categories.

The big problem, of course, is that because of the drop in actual licenses issued was “much lower than originally predicted,” as Weisburg says, the expected revenue from the fees also is much lower. Weisburg reports:

In its report to the council committee, the Treasurer’s Office states that such revenue now totals more than $5.2 million, falling short of the $7 million city officials said last year they hoped to get for administering and enforcing the new regulations, including filling as many as nine code enforcement positions. To date, the city has incurred expenses of $1.7 million in connection with implementing the new regulations, the Treasurer’s Office said.

Eight positions for enforcement have already been funded in the current fiscal year budget, including five zoning investigators, a budget total of nearly $949,000.

A point to clarify. The Mission Beach “exception.” Mission Beach is and has been an exception and for a 100 years has had a high number of vacation rentals. So, in terms of licenses, it has a separate cap. Weisburg: “Demand for licenses there was predictably high, and a lottery was conducted for the allowed 1,082 licenses. A total of 1,290 applications were submitted.”

Yet, Rag roving reporter in Mission Beach, Gary Wonacutt, insists the city is using the wrong demographic data to determine numbers of rentals.

So, coastal residents will have a new program in less than a week. Everything’s been solved. Now, hopefully, the city will send out representatives to explain it all to us.



{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Frank Gormlie April 26, 2023 at 7:47 pm

What can I say? I like maps.


Gary Wonacott April 27, 2023 at 7:15 am

UT reporter Weisburg has been making the same misstatement for 100 years. AirBnB started in 2008. From 2010 to 2017 was the highest rate of proliferation of short term rentals in Mission Beach as well as La Jolla, Pacific Beach and Ocean Beach. All increased by about the same absolute number; however, the density of STRs increased more rapidly in MB, because the number of housing units and population is much smaller. This gave the impression that Ms. Wesburg alludes to. There is some proof of this from the Census numbers. The population of MB decreased according to the 2010 and 2020 census numbers by almost 25 percent, which correlates with the increase in STRs. Based on my discussions with past councilmember Barbara Bry, in their negotiations, it was AirBnB who wanted all of MB in exchange for the one or two percent City wide. The deck was stacked against Mission Beach residents. This included the negotiator who supposedly represented us. The hotel workers union president at the time was engaged in a fight to the death lawsuit against the owner of two of the hotels, the Catamaran and the Bahia. She should have recused herself from any negotiations related to MB. The carve out of Mission Beach was a sham. Hopefully, the next City Council representative for Mission Beach will reduce the density of STRs to a more reasonable number, like 10-12 percent of the total housing units.


FrankF April 27, 2023 at 9:34 am

I’d urge everybody to read the new law and hold your neighbors who run a hotel out of their house to comply with the regs. One interesting section of the law relates to signage. Did you know a STVR must have a sign that be clearly seen from the sidewalk noting that the property is a STVR and naming the responsible party and listing a contact phone number? Did you know that the owner or agent must return a complainant’s phone call within one hour???

Know your rights as a neighbor to these annoying STVRs. If your STVR or the tenant violates the law, complain to the city!


Mat Wahlstrom April 27, 2023 at 11:30 am

Once again, we are left saying to the city, “I told you so!” Of course, our electeds pretend they can’t hear us and double down on making things worse. And it is worse than Weisberg reports.

Anyone else remember when the City Auditor declared that there were 16,000 homes citywide being used as vacation rentals, “based on a consultant’s study in 2018, when the city was considering legislation to restrict and regulate short-term vacation rentals”?* So even after COVID, from which the tourism industry has largely recovered, this new cap is accounting for less than a third of the actual scofflaws. And why bother starting starting to follow rules now when there wasn’t any accountability while all vacation rentals were illegal?

Similar to what’s happened with cannabis, the bad guys will continue to outnumber and undermine those complying with the law. The difference is there is no socially redeeming value in depriving residents of housing.



d9 April 27, 2023 at 10:42 pm

I’m thinking a large number of people who own short term rental properties have not applied for a license and intend to keep doing business as usual. This certainly appears to be the case in North OB. What is the process for reporting properties that are out of compliance?


Gary Wonacott April 28, 2023 at 5:49 am

I urge all residents in Ocean Beach to visit the website, which provides all of this information for every Tier 3 in OB. I also urge use of videos and pictures in your complaint report. I also suggest that you retain your information in case nothing happens and ideally find a way to share your complaint with your neighbors.


kh May 2, 2023 at 3:53 pm

There is a significant number of units that either haven’t pursued a license or are operating in an ineligible structure. For some it’s just a matter of revising their application to exploit one of the many available loopholes.

But the biggest discrepancy in all this is that Jen Campbell’s office vastly inflated the numbers in order to sell it as a reduction. It was never going to be a reduction, and anyone who looked closely at the existing data on STRs in San Diego knew that. It was a pretty massive fucking failure for them to negotiate with the host platforms and pass a law without doing the homework first.

But alas, here we are. Let’s at least try and make the enforcement mechanism work for us.


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