Setting the record straight

There are some misconceptions about short-term rentals that have created false narratives. We think it’s important to set the record straight so that San Diegans have all the facts about the importance of short-term vacation rentals in our City.

FALSE: San Diego zoning already prohibits whole-house vacation rentals in residential neighborhoods. The City must enforce the existing law.

This is a summary of former City Attorney Jan Goldsmith’s position on why we cannot use a permissive interpretation of existing law to conclude that short term rentals are prohibited just because they are not expressly permitted:

  • Current language in the Municipal Code also doesn’t explicitly permit long-term rentals, OR owner-occupied either, OR even guests, so would they also be illegal occupants?
  • Current zoning ordinance calls for ‘single-family dwelling unit only’, no language covering legal basis for occupancy
  • Permissive zoning ordinances has to fit within RS zone definitions and the current definition is vague.

Because this language is too vague, it would never hold up in court.

This is why Share San Diego advocates for a fair and reasonable ordinance that does clarify the zoning language so that it is no longer vague. We do want regulations around STR’s, just one that strikes a reasonable compromise that protect private property rights, stops out of town investors and creates a streamlined registration process for second home vacation rentals.

FALSE: Short-term vacation rentals (STVRs) are Visitor Accommodations and are prohibited in residential zones.

The “visitor accommodations” ordinance adopted in 1997 bars residential uses that “provide lodging… primarily to visitors and tourists.”

The following is a summary of former San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith’s stance on this topic:

  • Investigators can’t determine what constitutes what ‘primarily’ means. Let’s say we interpret it to mean ‘more than 50% of the time’. But over what period does that include? One year? Two years?
  • Also ‘visitor’ is not clearly defined. Is someone coming from Mira Mesa to rent a house for a family reunion in Mission Beach considered a visitor?

In summary, if zoning enforcement officers were to try to enforce the code ‘as it’s written’, they will have to know where occupants renting a home come from, what they are doing, and why they are there. These would be very long, complicated cases that would require them to stake out a house for a long time, get search warrants, etc. wasting tax dollars.

As a result, it’s no surprise that there have been no cases brought to city attorney office since the adoption of the visitor accommodations ordinance.

FALSE: We must stop big corporations from buying out apartment buildings and converting them to illegal hotels.

We agree that out of town investors and bad actors should be banned in San Diego. That’s why we support fair, reasonable regulations that protect private property and ensure that the city continues to benefit from the millions of dollars in tourism taxes and visitor spend that short-term rentals bring each year. Moreover, we think that a process which includes enforcement funding and streamlined registration is essential to success in regulating short-term rentals.

There are already rules and regulations against this notion of buying out an apartment building to convert into a hotel (San Diego Municipal Code §113.0103, which defines when a short-term rental would be officially considered a hotel), so there is no need to define new regulations to ‘stop’ this from happening. Existing code already prohibits this, and we do not support anyone, whether it’s a corporation or an individual, engaging in this activity illegally.

FALSE: Operating a short-term rental is a business activity that should be outlawed in a residential zone.

The current commonly-accepted definition of a short-term rental is one that accommodates stays of less than 30 days. Meanwhile, a long-term rental is 30 days or more. A short term rental is no more a business activity than a long-term rental if the only difference is 29 vs. 30 days.

But a short-term rental is something that a teacher could rent out for most of the summer if they travel, a retired couple could rent out for a few weekends a year to supplement a fixed income, or people with an inherited home like to keep flexible for family and friends who visit throughout the year.

That’s why we strive to strike a reasonable compromise to create a fair and balanced ordinance for the coexistence of both short-term and long-term rentals in the City of San Diego.

FALSE: Short-term rentals are primarily responsible for the current housing crisis in San Diego

San Diego is an increasingly expensive city and the housing affordability crisis has been building up for years as a result of several factors, including lack of new development and halting of development underway.

In reality, short-term rentals are what help many long time San Diego residents stay in the city because they’ve come to rely on the important income generated by sharing their homes.

This recent article from the San Diego Union Tribune shows new housing unit development by decade in San Diego. It’s clear that the reason we have a shortage of housing stock currently is due to the City of San Diego’s failure to approve an adequate amount of development over the past decade. According to the article, we are currently about ~80,000 units behind where we need to be to keep up with demand.

The real culprit here are the ‘not-in-my-backyard’ constituents such as Save San Diego Neighborhoods, who have done everything they can to stop the increase of height limits on buildings for example.

FALSE: Banning short-term rentals will make homes and rents more affordable again in San Diego

While it’s easy and convenient to jump to this conclusion, there has been no evidence supporting this hypothesis in any other city. House affordability is a very complex issue that does not have a simple answer.

We understand concerns around housing affordability and homeless in San Diego – and want to play a part in finding a solution. That’s why we support reasonable regulations that would include funding for affordable housing and would stop out of town investors.

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