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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or (619) 325-0528.