Would you pay $900 a month to live in this tent in an Ocean Beach backyard?

In a city where the average single-family detached home is listing for a million bucks, there are those who would call the 10-foot by 12-foot canvas tent a bargain

NBC Universal, Inc.

The Word of the Year in San Diego in 2023 has to be either "camping" or tent."

The latest use of both words comes to us from the neighborhood of Ocean Beach, where a Craigslist posting was spotted this week advertising an unheated 10-foot by 12-foot backyard tent for $900 a month.

In a city where the average single-family detached home is listing for a million bucks, there are those who would call that a bargain. The city of San Diego, though, would say it's illegal, at least as a short-term rental. Camping — or "glamping," or whatever you want to call it — in a tent or a trailer or RV is only permitted in certain areas. (A caveat: after this story was published, the city of San Diego told NBC 7 that the "city’s Building & Land Use Division (BLUE), [which] enforces RVs being used as habitable space in residential zones ... does not reference or enforce safe camping laws.")

The Craigslist ad spotted on Monday.

Camping has been a part of the discussion this year in so many ways, from homeless encampments on city sidewalks and in its parks to the city's Safe Sleeping sites in and near Balboa Park, as well as out in East County, where hundreds, perhaps thousands of migrants have rossed the U.S.-Mexico border near Jacumba Hot Springs, where tents have been set up in makeshift camps while they await processing by the Border Patrol.

A woman named Tara runs the camping rental in the backyard of her leased home (NBC 7 is not publishing her last name or street address to preserve her anonymity). She said on Monday that she often visits the Airbnb pages to look at local short-term rentals and that, until recently, there were other tents for rent in OB, including in the backyard of one property on which its owner had installed an outdoor restroom for his customers. In the recent past, however, there has been a crackdown by the city, Tara told NBC 7, which is why, she said, she no longer offers it for rent on Airbnb.

While Tara agreed to speak to NBC 7 about the tent, she also stated it was no longer for rent, despite the fact that an ad was posted as recently as Monday regarding the rental on Craigslist.

So, what do you get for your $900? Utilities, for one thing, including an electric warming mattress, daily cleaning, an outlet, a light, a night table, zippable doors and windows, and a "loving cat named Honey Mustard who lives in the home" who might come visit. Yes, you can bring your dog, but only if they don't bark or chase Honey Mustard. Also: kitchen privileges that you will have to share with four others, as well as an indoor living room and several outdoor patios. Bonus: Beach towels, boogie boards and beach cruisers are included with a rental.

The ad was taken down later that day.

"The thing about the price is that it's not the same as an empty room that you rent for $900 in a shared home, because on this property, the property gets cleaned every day, everything is fully maintenanced," Tara said. "Like, if you lose your key, I'm here to let you in. If you have a question about the area? So it comes with a concierge, it comes with a pristine property all the time. You're not going to be cleaning your bathroom or there's no utility fees, so everything is included."

Things renters may not enjoy: You can have a guest, but they can't sleep over. Also: You may encounter another visitor, this one a raccoon out back that may surprise you on a late-night restroom trip. Also: There were a couple of homeless people not far away outside the backyard fence on Monday when NBC 7 looked on Monday. Finally, this is not an ADA-approved ADU; to get from the street to your tent, you’ll walk down 23 steps.

Tara grew up in Tierrasanta but played sports at Point Loma's Robb Field as a child, giving her a taste for OB that many of us can never forget. The 35-year-old said she's lived in the home where the tent’s located for the past seven years or so. Prior to that, she was in Little Italy — good God, isn’t it time we started calling that Littaly? Hey, if “rizz” is a word, why not? — and had been renting extra rooms in her house on Airbnb, which she enjoyed, then she got the idea to get a bigger house and make that her source of income — so she takes care of the rentals in her home and does the cleaning as well and pockets those fees. Eventually, she said, spotted the OB house on Craigslist and negotiated a deal with her landlord to live in one room and rent out the others.

Neighbors in Ocean Beach have been complaining to the city about a couple of campers abandoned in a dirt parking lot near Robb Field. We first brought you this story Sunday when we found 72 hour notices the police had placed on the campers to notify the owners they would haul them away. NBC 7's Priya Sridhar has the latest.

Starting out, Tara told NBC 7, most of the rooms were taken by people who were vacationing, but when the pandemic began, she pivoted, and when the housing crisis tightened the market, she pivoted again.

"So after COVID, I started experimenting with some different strategies on Airbnb to attract more longer-term guests," Tara said. "So I would raise my price so that nobody booked the room and then the month would be wide open. And then when the date got closer, I would get somebody who booked it for the whole month. And then I started finding that most of these people were looking for housing and couldn't find it, so they booked an Airbnb for a month so that they could have a home base to look for housing from."

And that’s why now, Tara said, she prefers to rent for the whole month to tenants who need last-minute housing, which is one reason the tent is being offered for a month or even three months at a time.

And how did Tara come up with the price of $900 a month in tent rent?

"Basically, I start off at a higher price, and if I don't get interest, I lower the price every week," Tara said.

There’s little wear and tear on the neighborhood from the tent and other rented rooms, Tara said: She tries to target renters who don't have cars, but if they do, there are a few spots of off-street parking if needed.

Tara said she lurks on Airbnb’s Alternative Spaces category and hasn’t been the only one offering camping in Ocean Beach.

"I know there was a lot of RVs and tents,” Tara said. “I saw another person in OB who had several tents in his backyard, and he had built a restroom for them to use so they didn't have to come into his house. I like when they come to my house, so I didn't need to do that. Recently, the city kind of told everyone who was renting RVs or tents that it wouldn't — no longer be allowed because they have a rule where you're not allowed to live in a tent or an RV in San Diego."

NBC 7 reached out to the city to discuss the legality of renting tents in backyards and was told that the city's building and land use division does enforce RV's being used as homes in residential neighborhoods — but did not address the issues of tents being used as housing. However when it comes to short-term rentals the city prohibits vehicles, shipping containers, tree houses, teepees and others from being used as short-term rentals.

Tara was reluctant to say she whether she was playing a role in solving San Diego's housing crisis or if she was exacerbating a problem by taking housing off the market and renting it to tourists.

"I mean, honestly, I don't know if I'm helping it or not, because it's really hard to know what helps it and what hurts it," Tara said, "because there's so many factors at any given time affecting the housing market. You can speculate, like, that this is increasing or decreasing housing availability, but how can you really know?"

What Tara does think, however, is that a stay in her tent is a transformative experience.

"That is the feedback that I've received from a lot of people who have stayed in there," Tara told NBC 7. "Sometimes it can be a little bit scary staying in a tent. For some people who depend on the security of, like, a locked door and maybe they've never been camping before, it's a good way for people to see what camping might feel like but have a home that you could kind of go to if things get really scary."

And then there’s the aforementioned trash panda to contest with.

While Ocean Beach is, according to Tara, a "really easy place to be homeless," she does believe she’s a factor in people finding long-term living spaces.

"... I've met a lot of homeless people being in this industry, because it's like when people stop being homeless, they usually find short-term furnished housing. I'm usually like the next step."

Tara said she can no longer rent out her tent on Airbnb "because the city now is watching my tent." The criticisms have not only been official: She's also gotten negative feedback from people after posting the tent for rent.

"I'm trying to help people have more housing options at different price points, like with the tent, but some people aren't receptive to it," Tara said. "I had a few people respond when I was looking for tenants to stay in here and like, 'You've got to be crazy! A thousand dollars to stay in a tent! What is this? I hope this is a joke'," adding, "To those people, I think it would maybe benefit them to stay in a tent."

Finally, just before we left, Tara summed up her opinion on her tent rental: "I think it's really important for everyone to spend some time outdoors and go camping, and I think the city should reconsider their laws around people staying in tents for temporary, short-term periods of time. I think it should be allowed."

While the post on Craigslist described stays in the tent as "glamping," — “glamorous camping" — Tara says, "It's, well ... it's camping. There aren't very many amenities in the tent. If I had a mini fridge in there, I would say it'd be glamping. But there's no mini fridge in the tent."

Contact Us