City releases initial new regulations for short-term vacation rentals
by By LISA HALVERSTADT - Voice of San Diego
Published - 08/26/15 - 05:07 PM | 22042 views | 13 13 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Signs like this one are posted throughout Crown Point and Pacific Beach. / Photo by Thomas Melville
Signs like this one are posted throughout Crown Point and Pacific Beach. / Photo by Thomas Melville
Short-term vacation rentals may soon be legal – and regulated – in San Diego.

City staffers released a memo on Aug. 12 that lays out a potential framework for traditional vacation rentals and for those that have proliferated through sites like Airbnb and VRBO, which connect hosts and visitors.

A proposed ordinance drafted by the city's Development Services Department would allow up to two paying visitors to stay in a room within a home and full-home rental stays of fewer than 30 days. Hosts who book more than two visitors or multiple rooms at a time would be considered bed and breakfast operators, which would come with more requirements.

Renting entire space

The draft proposes these be generally allowed for less than a month in most residential areas. Hosts would be required to share and enforce a rental agreement with visitors and designate a local contact to respond within an hour of any complaints about bad behavior at the property. City leaders will have to hash out how many guests and visits are allowed per month.

Home sharing

The property owner is required to remain in the home while the visitor stays for fewer than 30 days. No more than two lodgers are allowed, and an arrangement is allowed for only one room or with one party. At least one parking space must be provided. City leaders will decide how often visits are allowed.

Bed and breakfasts

Homeowners who host more than two visitors or coordinate more than two stays at once would be classified as bed and breakfast operators. This label wouldn’t necessarily mean meals are provided but would require that the property owner to stick around during the visit.

Depending on where the home is located, operators could need to get a neighborhood use permit or a conditional use permit, which can take more than a year to obtain.

These hosts would also need to have a parking space for the operator and additional spaces for the guest rooms. There are additional regulations and parking requirements depending on the zone the home is in.

Still, the rules probably don’t quell some bitter disagreements over the issues that have flared during months of public hearings, heated debates and even legal threats.

Bob Vacchi, the city’s Development Services director, said the tension put pressure on the city. “It’s been extremely difficult for us to put (the draft rules) together because there’s really no consensus,” Vacchi added.

Even with the draft ordinance, the city remains a house divided on short-term rentals.

While the city’s collecting bed taxes from short-term rentals, a Burlingame woman last week was saddled with a nearly $25,000 fine for operating what city staffers referred to as a bed and breakfast out of her historic craftsman home. The 70-year-old says she simply hosted visitors through Airbnb and didn’t operate a commercial enterprise.

The citation followed months of confusion about the rules – or lack thereof – for vacation rental hosts to follow and city demands that they pay bed taxes long imposed on hoteliers.

Those disagreements also contributed to foot-dragging by the city.

City Councilwoman Lorie Zapf, who represents beach communities, called an April City Council subcommittee hearing on short-term rental issues. The gathering was so packed the committee held a second meeting on May 29. That day, members of the smart growth and land use committee – which Zapf chairs – asked city staffers to work on an ordinance.

The initial draft was finished by early July and shared with City Council members, according to emails obtained by Voice of San Diego. But the emails indicate the mayor’s office delayed the release when it discovered continued infighting over some of the specifics.

Brian Pepin, Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s director of council affairs, wrote in a July 10 email that the mayor’s office had met with some City Council members to get their take on the measure and found continued disagreement over the number of rentals allowed per month or year.

“Unfortunately, the councilmembers were unable to reach consensus on the appropriate frequency to move forward with,” Pepin wrote in an email to a Development Services staffer who worked on the draft ordinance. “The result of the meeting was to request that you return to the smart growth committee at its next possible meeting in order to get clear direction on frequency.”

The next subcommittee meeting isn’t until Sept. 23.

There were other issues, too. At the May 29 meeting and in other settings, City Council members have disagreed on the number of visitors that should be allowed in a full-home vacation rental. They also haven’t given clear consensus on whether hosts should be allowed to rent granny flats, or other spaces on residential lots, on a short-term basis.

Officials say conflicts delayed at least one other discussion on the issue.

Joe LaCava chairs the citywide Community Planners Committee, a group that had been set to review the draft short-term rental ordinance at its July meeting. He said he was told the draft rules would be released June 30 and cleared his group’s July agenda to allow for a heated debate. That didn’t happen.

“I heard those regulations were being held back by the mayor’s office,” LaCava said.

He was surprised when the proposed regulations weren’t released in the weeks afterward, either.

“Everybody knows there’s draft language just sitting out there. Everybody’s just waiting for that draft language to drop and then start the conversation,” LaCava said Aug. 12, before the memo was released. “I think everybody’s just sort of in a waiting period right now.”

Vacchi said the delays were a result of a lack of consensus among councilmembers, not any intention by the mayor’s office to delay the discussion.

A mayor’s office spokesman couldn’t immediately comment.

That debate appears likely to pick up again soon, shortly after an administrative law judge decided the Burlingame Airbnb host should be sanctioned.

Amanda Lee, the Development Services manager who drafted the proposed rules, said Zapf’s office will decide next steps for the ordinance.

Lisa Halverstadt is a reporter at Voice of San Diego. Know of something she should check out? You can contact her directly at or (619) 325-0528.

Comments-icon Post a Comment
October 08, 2017
Dig a little deeper Great post and so true. The STR behind us is owned by a real estate firm that owns 95 properties in our town in So. Cal. They keep trying to pretend like the live there but all we hear and see is weekend noise and when they come for a few days to crash and clean the place. Looks like SD resident are being thrown under the bus in favor of the Airbnb approved "new" rules which are a gift to the investors. Notice how the city attorney still says STRs are illegal but is waiting for direction from city council. What the hell does that mean? This whole issue is a nightmare for neighborhoods.

Santa Monica has been the toughest so far. We will not move to another town that is not extremely tough with the STR issues.
OB Renter
September 05, 2017
My landlord was offered $4k a month flat to kick me out by a Brooklyn based vacation brokerage firm. Their intention was to rent it AirBnB to the detriment of the neighborhood. "Dig a Little Deeper" has the right idea. My landlord detests vacation rentals, God bless him.
Dig a Little Deeper
September 03, 2017
Don't be fooled. This isn't about local folks renting out their homes. It's large corporations that are buying up homes and renting them out as vacation rentals. This is a global phenomenon and it is absolutely destroying neighborhoods and communities around the world. Many of these "investors" are based in China. Also, the comments sections in articles like this on the internet are riddled with shills paid for by these corporations.
hardworking in SD
August 30, 2017
This article is not accurate. The proposed SD rule, which I just read, only allow short term rental by the PRIMARY RESIDENT of the house/condo. So people who wanted to rent their second homes out would be out of luck.

WHO is really pushing the restrictions on short term rental?

I read that HOTEL INDUSTRY in LA have been bankrolling lots of efforts behind imposing restrictions on short term rentals. Guess they want consumers to pay $200 per night per room when traveling.

Most resident renters in SD will become home owners when they settle down -- now like the life long renters in LA, NYC. I don't believe the renters are driving the efforts to restrict short term rentals.

This is the special interest group (hotel) fighting the small inventors who work hard besides their day time job to manage a short term rental to save for their retirement.

hardworking in SD
August 30, 2017
My APOLOGIES. the draft ordinance I read was from council woman Barbara Bry, not the ones this article mentioned.
living in san diego
August 22, 2017
I don't see how that make a landlord greedy. They are landlords and landlords rent at the highest amount possible, the same way any of us would. The reality is that VRBO and AIRBNB collect city occupancy taxes on behalf of the landlord and pay it directly to the city. currently that rate is over 11%. that is HUGE money going into the coffers of the city. they are not going to get in the way of that revenue.
long time
July 27, 2017
The biggest problem with vacation rentals is the loss of neighborhoods/community. Long term renters (especially beach areas)are being kicked out in favor of high price - short term vacation rentals. My neighbors of 10 & 17 years have been evicted by greedy owner so she can turn them into big money - short term rentals. I doubt the owner would want this on HER block. But she has no vested interest in this community since she doesn't live here herself. Any new proposed guidelines on vacation rentals should include owners live on premise. Otherwise entire beach communities will be completely lost to greed.
August 30, 2017
people who live in beach communities are transitional at best already, and out here in the suburbs it's not all ice-cream socials and block parties. My "neighbor" who moved in across the street has never said more than Hello on 2 occasions...So in a Tourist Town, with an EXTREMELY High Cost of Living, we need to face foreclosure, or late payment fees on bills, versus generating some income from out location, location, location???
working hard in SD
August 30, 2017
Property owners even if not living there DO have vested interest in the community because it affects property value.

The tourists using vacation rentals are just like us hardworking American people saving up for a vacation once or twice a year with our family. We do not turn savage once we are on the road, neither do the tourists. Most tourist are as respectful as any 30 day renters - as "aowend" said below, many of these 30 day renters in the beach community are also transient in nature.
Respectable Landlord
September 05, 2017
Why "greedy?!" Why not property owners who have a certain "bundle of rights" which includes renting their property? To use the term "greed" is pretty inflammatory and unfair.
July 18, 2017
I believe all homes in residentil areas should have regulations on the average number of occupants, frequency of events and capacity for events based on the square footage of the property. All neighbors, short term or long should be expected to be respectful and subjcet to fines if noise, capacity, or event capacity ordinances are violated. Make it simple. Make it universal. My long term neighbors/tenants have been much more annoying than the vacationers who are generally too tired from sight seeing to cause any issues.
working hard in SD
August 30, 2017
Well said!!
Respectable Landlord
September 05, 2017
What about expecting the City of San Diego to uphold existing ordinances against noise and nuisance instead of restricting your own property rights?

Our vacation rental neighbors regularly rent our properties for their visiting relatives, and we have NEVER had even one complaint about our vacation tenants, whose large deposits and airtight rental contracts ensure proper behavior.

We have paid tens of thousands each year in TOT and TMD tax to the city in return for what? Dismissing their own responsibilities? The streets and islands looks like trash and weed heaps, unruly vacationers create noise and nuisance against laws which should be enforced now.
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