San Diego has long been a top vacation destination for travelers from all over the world. From Time Magazine to Travel & Leisure, America’s Finest City can be found on just about any “best of” travel lists. This outstanding reputation lends itself to a prominent tourism industry in the city. In 2016, almost 35 million people visited San Diego, with visitors racking up 17.1 million room nights in local hotels and spending $10.4 billion – an all-time high. 2017 has started off in a similar fashion, and, with race season and warmer weather still on the horizon, industry experts are expecting the upward trend to continue. However, as the third-largest industry in San Diego continues to grow, the ability of residents to cash in is now in danger.
Short-term rentals have been a hot-button issue in San Diego County for years, coinciding with the growing popularity of websites such as Airbnb and VRBO. This past October, contention on the subject reached a tipping point. Councilwoman Sherri Lightner released a proposal to ban all short-term rentals from residential areas. Just a few months later, city attorney Mara Elliott concluded that San Diego’s municipal code does not permit vacation rentals in any zone.
Coastal cities felt effects of the decision immediately. Residents of Point Loma, Mission Beach, Pacific Beach, La Jolla, and Del Mar were in a tough spot. According to property manager Kimberly Wise, there are around 2,000 residential properties in Mission Beach and only 37% of them are owner-occupied year-round. This large disparity highlights a situation experienced throughout the county. A number of residents use short-term rentals as a way to bring in extra income, with some relying on the practice to keep up with San Diego’s high cost of living. Homeowners are searching for answers with the most profitable time of year fast-approaching.
Issues and Solutions
The reasoning behind the desire to limit short-term rentals is justified. Vacationers tend to be less mindful of neighbors with noise complaints topping a long list of issues. A number of multi-family complexes have essentially turned into hotels, with the few owner-occupants suffering the consequences. Additionally, neighborhood safety and privacy are sacrificed due to largely unscreened tenants moving in and out on a weekly basis.
The main issue, however, is the desire for a sweeping ban as opposed to a potential compromise. Vacation rentals have been a longstanding tradition in many San Diego cities, Del Mar in particular. When the city council voted to ban the practice in April, residents responded with a lawsuit. They do not expect a decision until early in 2018.
Residents against the ban have urged council members to look to Solana Beach for answers. In the neighboring city, permits and regulations have been effective in monitoring short-term rentals. Quiet hours can keep the noise under control and a transient occupancy tax provides benefits for the cities themselves. To please both parties, however, a number of additional regulations would need to take effect. Issues such as parking and over-occupancy still exist. On top of that big question remains…Who is enforcing these rules?
As the debate drags on, residents throughout San Diego wait for answers.