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The Next Chapter in the Fight Over Vacation Rentals

San Diego won’t get a vacation from the debate over short-term rentals in 2016. Here’s a look at the issues that’ll be up for consideration early next year.

San Diego won’t get a vacation from the debate over short-term rentals in 2016.

A proposed ordinance that aims to both regulate and formally open the door to home-sharing and full-home rentals was unanimously shot down by the city planning commission this month.

Commissioners said they’d like to see significant changes, and City Councilwoman Lorie Zapf’s office, which has been leading the charge for new rules, has gotten back to work on the draft. A staffer says he expects to bring it to City Council by March.

Here’s a look at the foremost issues that’ll be up for debate early next year.

Full Home Rentals vs. Home Sharing: The current ordinance distinguishes between home sharing – where a host rents out a room or two to guests and remains in the home during their stay – and whole-home rentals, the category that’s drawn most complaints from residents in beach communities.

Zapf’s office hasn’t suggested a limit on home-sharing stays but has proposed visitors only be allowed to rent homes in single-family zones for at least 21 nights.

Which gets us to a big disagreement between those arguing for stricter enforcement and those who want the city to back down …

The 21-Day Rule: Zapf’s office is convinced the 21-day requirement strikes a balance between rental bans in other cities and the peace and quiet neighbors expect. The state Coastal Commission and city planning commissioners disagree.

The proposal calls for rental operators who want to host guests for shorter stays more frequently to apply for a neighborhood-use permit, a process that typically takes about a year and can cost thousands of dollars.

Short-term rental advocates say this amounts to a ban on short-term rentals and could push landlords to try to stay under the radar.

The Coastal Commission, which will need to sign off on the final ordinance, had another beef.

In a letter sent before the planning commission vote, District Manager Deborah Lee declared the rule too restrictive and said it didn’t jibe with the commission’s interest in coastal-area accommodations that are affordable for families.

Ryan Purdy, the Zapf staffer working on the ordinance, said he plans to consult with the Coastal Commission in coming weeks to get a better sense of their concerns, and whether they’d be open to compromise. He’s optimistic.

Zapf’s office is open to the idea of a grace period, which Purdy said could shield homeowners who only rent out their home during their annual vacation or for tourist-heavy events like Comic-Con from a crackdown.

Permit and Enforce: Planning commissioners wanted to see a greater focus on enforcement to crack down on loud or unruly visitors and proposed making permits cheaper and quicker to obtain to help cover the bill.

A few also suggested a sliding-scale approach where homeowners who host more guests pay steeper permit fees.

Zapf’s office has since penned a memo that raises the idea of separate over-the-counter permits for whole-home rentals and home-sharing operators. Purdy tentatively penciled in $100 to $200 in annual fees based on research on other cities that have added yearly permits.

The idea is those charges would cover expenses associated with hiring code enforcement and police staffers who would enforce the rules.

It’d be difficult to bypass those fees, Purdy said, because the permits would be a requirement when rentals register to pay city hotel taxes. (Airbnb now facilitates those collections in San Diego.)

The Sharing Space Requirements: The draft ordinance bars using more than 25 percent of a home for home sharing and requires one extra parking spot for every two people. (The current home-sharing rules only allow for two adult visitors.)

Attorney Omar Passons, who’s been a vocal opponent of the city’s current approach to vacation rentals, has criticized these limits.

Those rules penalize San Diegans with smaller homes and less parking, he said.

Room for Clarity: The discussion about vacation rental regulations has been marked by confusion and disagreement over what the city’s current rules even allow.

Save San Diego Neighborhoods, a group that’s argued vacation rentals shouldn’t be allowed in residential areas, maintain the current rules support their position. The group would prefer the city simply enforce what it interprets as a current ban on whole-home rentals in residential zones rather than create new rules. Groups that back home sharing and vacation rentals, however, say current city regulations don’t address newer business models or realities, or clearly explain the rules.

City Attorney Jan Goldsmith emphasized the need for greater clarity in a memo released last week. He acknowledged that the current rules open the door to subjective enforcement and confusion.

Any updates to the city’s current regulations should more clearly define who’s considered a visitor and include objective standards on when rentals would be considered a primary use of a property, a practice Goldsmith concluded current city rules technically bar.

“Rather than have a broad, vague and unenforceable regulation, the mayor and City Council should clearly identify what is and what is not allowed in terms that people of common intelligence do not need to guess at its meaning, or differ as to its application,” Goldsmith wrote. “A clear policy would ensure that enforcement is equal under the law and not on a subjective, ad-hoc basis.”

Goldsmith didn’t say whether the ordinance Zapf’s office has proposed addresses those concerns.

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