Column: Time to act on short-term rentals
Published - 09/26/19 - 12:15 PM | 3140 views | 3 3 comments | 68 68 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Short-term rentals in San Diego should be regulated in a clear and objective manner that respects the rights of all property owners, protects our quality of life, and preserves our housing stock. 

Instead of adopting a regulatory framework, however, San Diego has opted to rely on existing laws that address noise, trash, parking, and other problems created by visitors who rent properties through online services like Airbnb. This is frustrating to those of us who believe that short-term rental property owners and neighborhood residents deserve clear rules that they can live with.

While the politics of short-term rentals (STRs) are complicated, the law is clear. The municipal code, which houses our city’s laws, does not specifically regulate or prohibit STRs in single-family residential zones. Under what is known as a “permissive” zoning ordinance, the city of San Diego has created zones that define how land within the city may be used. If the use is not listed, it is not permitted, which is the case with STRs. At a minimum, our policy makers must define STRs so that citizens understand how the land can be used, and so that law enforcement can enforce the law.

In March 2017, I issued the first of several memoranda summarizing the law and suggesting potential solutions, including the enactment of an ordinance that reflects “the reasonable compromise our communities seek,” a compromise that allows for participation in the innovation economy as well as the quiet enjoyment of our homes.

Following the memo’s release, the Mayor’s Office said that it would not change enforcement practices until the City Council took action to regulate short-term rental properties.

In August 2018, after hours of public testimony, the City Council enacted on a 6-2 vote an ordinance to regulate STRs. The ordinance had been introduced by the Planning Department and amended by the City Council. Attorneys in my office advised on the law and drafted municipal code amendments to meet the policy makers’ goals.

The STR industry did not like the ordinance. Although they openly threatened to sue, they instead chose to bankroll a petition drive to suspend the ordinance and force a public vote on it. In such cases, the council has a choice: it can repeal its ordinance outright or place it on the ballot. By an 8-1 vote, the council repealed its ordinance, even though it had been years in the making.

Under the law, the Mayor and City Council had two alternatives. When the City Council repeals an ordinance suspended by a referendum, as was the case here, the Council could introduce a substantially similar ordinance one year after the date of repeal. The one-year anniversary of the repeal is November 13, 2019. The council could also immediately introduce a new STR ordinance that does not substantially mirror the repealed ordinance. Unfortunately, no action has occurred since the repeal, and STRs continue to flourish.

The Mayor and City Council have a golden opportunity to bring this long conversation to a meaningful and productive end by finally putting in place rules that are objective and clear, and again they will have the full support of my office in doing so. In the meantime, my office stands ready to prosecute any STR-related nuisance cases brought to us by mayoral departments.

Mara W. Elliott is San Diego City Attorney.

Comments-icon Post a Comment
Robert Burns
September 27, 2019
The City has long tacitly allowed STVR's and e-trash (e-bikes and e-scooters) in virtual anarchy for assuredly corrupt reasons. The e-trash is getting some pushback, but STVR's are getting none, by the City. A good toilet plunging using your favourite corrupt council rep or STVTR rat would end this sorry state of affairs. I see a place for STVR's where properly owner-involved or where properly zoned.
Lee Silber
September 27, 2019
Well said, Robert Burns. I agree with Mara Elliott.

Greg G.
September 27, 2019
The home next to our home is nothing more than a pop-up strip club every weekend. Bachelorette parties, bachelor parties, birthday parties, engagement parties, parties, parties, parties. Thank you, city leaders, for screwing over property tax paying homeowners who purposely purchased into quiet family neighborhoods only to be subjected to this debauchery on a weekly basis. If we wanted this experience, we would have purchased next to Les Girls in the Midway District. You supposed leaders are feckless and only if you had the same experience next door to your home would you actually do the right thing.
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