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Fact Check: How Strictly Does Bry's Plan Limit Short-Term Vacation Rentals?

Short-term rental platforms Airbnb and HomeAway claim Councilwoman Barbara Bry’s proposed vacation-rental regulations would hamstring rental operators in the city.

City Councilwoman Barbara Bry, who represents one of the beach communities most impacted by the years-long fight over vacation rental regulations, last week released a policy proposal she’s calling a compromise.

Short-term vacation rental advocates don’t quite see it that way.

Vacation rental platforms Airbnb and HomeAway emailed rental operators last week, urging them to attend a Wednesday night town hall meeting in La Jolla organized by Bry’s office. In those emails, both sites claimed Bry’s draft ordinance would decimate vacation rental operations in the city.

An attempt by then-Councilwoman Sherri Lightner last November to bar whole-home rentals in much of the city crashed and burned. If Bry’s proposal is as draconian as the rental sites claim, it could be a big indication of the plan’s chances before the Council.

I fact-checked two separate statements from the rental companies opposing Bry’s plan.

HucksterPropagandaStatement: “On Wednesday, Aug. 30, Councilmember Barbara Bry will host a town hall in La Jolla to discuss her proposed ordinance that would outright ban whole-home short-term rental units in single-family neighborhoods,” short-term rental platform HomeAway wrote in an Aug. 24 email to operators.

Determination: Huckster Propaganda

Analysis: Bry and others grappling with short-term vacation rentals have long been most concerned about whole-home rentals. Stories abound in beach communities of packed homes in otherwise quiet neighborhoods hosting loud, partying visitors.

And HomeAway, a platform that focuses on whole-home rentals, is thus most concerned with maintaining its operators’ ability to continue renting out homes in San Diego. It claimed in an email to its users that Bry’s measure would entirely bar whole-home short-term rentals in residential zones.

That’s not true.

Bry’s measure would require homeowners in residential zones to seek a permit to rent their full home. The permit would allow renting out a home for less than 30 days at a time, up to a total of 90 days a year. Only those who can prove that a home is their primary residence would be eligible for such a permit.

Bry told Voice of San Diego she wants that permit to be easy for operators to obtain and ideally, available online.

Still, HomeAway spokesman Philip Minardi argued Bry’s proposal amounts to a ban.

“In the final analysis, the majority of San Diego’s vacation rental owners rent out their homes for longer than 90 days,” Minardi wrote in an email. “So, while this provision appears reasonable, the onerous limit amounts to a de-facto ban for the majority of HomeAway and VRBO owners in the area.”

But when pressed, Minardi said just 52 percent of San Diego HomeAway customers rent out their homes more than 90 days annually.

Minardi might be right that a majority of HomeAway customers would be impacted but it also means as many as half of them could be eligible to seek the permit outlined in Bry’s proposed policy.

Minardi couldn’t immediately say what percentage of HomeAway users rent out their primary residence.

We dub a statement Huckster Propaganda when a claim is not only inaccurate but it’s reasonable to expect the organization making that claim recognized this and made it anyway to gain an advantage.

HomeAway earned that distinction with this statement. The company’s own data proves Bry’s draft proposal wouldn’t be an “outright ban,” as its email claims.

♦♦♦

StretchStatement: “San Diego Councilmember Barbara Bry is holding a town hall to hear input on short-term rental laws from San Diegans, and unveil a new proposal to severely restrict home sharing in San Diego,” short-term rental platform Airbnb wrote in an Aug. 22 email to operators.

Determination: A Stretch

Analysis: While there’s been rampant disagreement on whole-home rentals, City Council members have agreed that most home-sharing operations aren’t problematic.

In the San Diego debate, home-sharers have long been defined as homeowners who remain on site when visitors arrive. Some host tourists in granny flats, while others rent out rooms in their homes.

In an email to its rental operators last week, Airbnb claimed that home-sharing would be imperiled under Bry’s proposal.

Yet Bry’s draft proposal puts only minimal restrictions on home-sharing operations.

Her draft ordinance suggests homeowners who get a permit similar to the one she suggested for whole-home rental operators be allowed to host guests year-round without any restrictions. Again, homeowners would need to prove that they’re renting out part of their primary residence.

Airbnb spokeswoman Jasmine Mora said the phrase “home sharing” in the email was meant to describe both whole-home and home-sharing operations where the owner remains on site.

In an email, she cited concerns about how Bry’s policy proposal would affect whole-home rental operators.

“From our interactions with hosts, we know there are many who share their primary residence while they are away on business travel or during their service in the military overseas,” Mora wrote. “By placing a cap on whole homes, Councilmember Bry’s proposal would prevent San Diegans like these from partaking in the full benefits of home sharing.”

She said Bry’s legislation could be even more problematic for San Diegans who own a second home that they rent out.

“This would end a decades-old tradition for some families — and, frankly, pulls the rug out from under folks who’ve owned vacation rentals for many years,” Mora wrote.

But again, Bry’s proposal wouldn’t ban whole-home rentals. It would still allow them up to 90 days a year. It would also allow home-sharing year-round.

The question then, is whether it would “severely restrict” vacation rentals in San Diego.

Last year, Airbnb said 67 percent of its hosts rented out their entire homes or apartments. A third offered a private or shared room in their home.

Mora couldn’t immediately say what percentage of Airbnb customers rent out their entire home more than 90 days a year or what percentage rent out their primary residence.

Minardi of HomeAway said 52 percent of his platform’s operators rent out more than 90 days a year and would be affected by Bry’s proposal.

That could mean significant changes for a large percentage of whole-home rental customers – the clear majority of Airbnb operators – but not what San Diego policymakers call home-sharing operators.

In light of those facts, let’s revisit Airbnb’s claim. It said Bry’s proposal would “severely restrict” home-sharing, a phrase that’s often used loosely in conversations about vacation rentals but that has a more specific meaning in local policymaking discussions.

In fact, Bry’s proposed ordinance even treats home-sharing operations where an owner remains on site differently than whole-home rentals.

So Airbnb’s claim is a stretch. There’s an element of truth to it. If the City Council ultimately approves Bry’s proposal, whole-home rentals would be far more restricted in the city, and home-sharing is often used as a broad term to describe both full-home and shared home rentals.

But there’s critical context that’s missing in the statement. Operations where an owner remains on site, often called home-sharing in city policy discussions, could continue year-round under Bry’s proposal.

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