Airbnb: San Diego Hosts Shouldn't Pay for Confusing City Codes

The company says San Diego leaders need to clarify their regulations for short-term rentals

Airbnb, the popular home-sharing website, says San Diegans should not face thousands of dollars in fines while the city’s policy on short-term rentals remains ambiguous.

David Owen, Airbnb’s regional head of public policy, sent a letter to San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and the City Council this week, weighing in on the case of Rachel Smith.

An administrative hearing officer ruled this month that Smith, a retired schoolteacher, must pay at least $15,000 in civil penalties after she continued to rent two rooms of her Burlingame house on Airbnb, despite a city order telling her to cease and desist.

The city said she was violating its bed and breakfast code by renting rooms without a permit. But Smith argued that Airbnb rentals should not be considered a bed and breakfast.

In his letter, David Owen with Airbnb said city council leaders “have acknowledged that the City’s code [on short-term rentals] is confusing and clarification is needed.”

“While the City Council is considering ordinance and code changes that would address this activity, regular San Diegans like Rachel should not be penalized,” Owen wrote. “Accordingly, we are calling for the City to stay the full amount of Ms. Smith’s fine and suspend enforcement efforts against other home sharers until the City Council completes its consideration of these code changes.”

Owen said the city of Boston has taken that approach as opposed to “trying to target their own citizens” who want to make extra cash through Airbnb. Read Owen's full letter below.

A spokesperson for the mayor's office told NBC 7 that the city has received Airbnb's letter and is currently reviewing it.

New home-sharing regulations are currently in the works at the city’s Developmental Services Department.

In a memo released Wednesday, staff outlined a number of proposed rules, which would allow hosts to have two paying visitors in their home for less than 30 days or to rent out their entire home for less than 30 days.

However, if a host decides to have more than two visitors or rent multiple rooms at a time, he or she would fall under the bed and breakfast code, which requires a conditional use permit from the city.

Airbnb has worked with the city of San Diego on previous regulations regarding home sharing, according to Owen.

Last month, Airbnb started charging San Diego visitors a tourist tax of about 11 percent — a tax that was previously paid by the hosts.

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