San Diego

City Attorney: Short-Term Vacation Rentals Not Allowed in San Diego

The topic of short-term rentals has become a point of contention for many residents in the past few months.

San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott has issued a memo clarifying her office's position on a portion of the City's Land Development Code under debate in past months: short-term vacation rentals. 

In a memorandum sent to Councilmember Barbara Bry Wednesday, Elliott said the rentals are not legal in single family residential zones under the City's current codes. 

"This Office appreciates that the Municipal Code, as currently written, does not allow the reasonable compromise our communities seek; a compromise respectful of those who wish to enjoy the quiet enjoyment of their homes and those who wish to take advantage of the innovation economy," Elliot wrote in the memo.

NBC 7 reached out to Councilmember Bry and her office responded, saying "her priority is protect the character and safety of our neighborhoods."

Whether the rentals are even allowed under municipal code has come under question, as the municipal code does not clearly define it either way. 

According to Elliott, the City is under a "permissive zoning ordinance", meaning that any use not listed in the City's zoning ordinance is prohibited. 

"Short term vacation rentals are not specifically defined, expressly permitted, or listed in any of the zone use categories, including residential or commercial," Elliott wrote in her statement. 

Commercial services are "generally not allowed" in the residential-single unit zoning code, Elliott said. 

In a statement to NBC 7 San Diego, Jasmine Mora, Airbnb press secretary, said the following:

"The portion of the code referenced was not written with the sharing economy in mind and underscores why we need thoughtful, sensible short term rental regulations. Thousands of San Diegans rely on home sharing to make ends meet and supplement their incomes. We want to continue working with city leaders to enact clear and common-sense regulations that ensure accountability and maintain neighborhood quality."

In a statement, Councilmember Bry said she was pleased to read the memo Elliott sent her, and said she looks forward to working to find a way forward. Bry, who represents District 1, represents coastal communities such as Carmel Valley, Del Mar, La Jolla, University City, Torrey Pines and surrounding areas. 

"I look forward to working with my colleagues on the Council to determine the best way to allow property owners to participate in home sharing, while also enforcing existing City Code to protect residential communities from the proliferation of mini-hotels," Bry said in a statement.

The topic of short-term rentals has become a point of contention for many residents in the past few months. Residents in neighborhoods like Pacific Beach, Point Loma, Del Mar, La Jolla and more have mixed opinions on the issue: some say the extra income helps support them financially, while others argue the loud parties the renters throw are disruptive and noisy. 

Kimberly Wise, a Mission Beach Realtor and property manager on the Mission Beach Town Council, said she agrees there should be more regulations.

"We want vacation renters to come to Mission Beach and enjoy themselves but not at our expense," said Wise. "And that’s what happening." 

However, she added, Mission Beach residents financially benefit from short-term rentals but she does not think homeowners are doing it the right way.

"They’re not taking responsibility and vetting the people they’re renting to,” said Wise.

She said Mission Beach has more than 2000 residential properties, and out of those owners, only  about 750 live in the property year round. The zoning ordinance, in her opinion, should be modified to accommodate each community's needs. 

Resident Juan Garcia, on the other hand, believes each homeowner should be able to do what they want with their property, so long as they are no disrespecting neighbors. 

In the past, Elliott's predecessor Jan Goldsmith has been murky on the issue: he said the current code would have to be amended. 

The memo comes a week before The City Planning Department will present draft proposals for regulating the rentals, often found on sites like Airbnb and VRBO. 

However, Elliott and Bry both left the doors open for compromise after the department issues their proposals. 

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