Del Mar council discusses short-term rental regulations

Del Mar is exploring regulations for short-term vacation rentals, but details on the new rules have not yet been decided.

The city’s zoning code does not define or list short-term rentals as an allowed use, yet another section of the code allows residents to rent rooms in their homes for undefined periods of time. To clarify and update those rules, the City Council in August directed staff to draft an ordinance that will deal with the increasing number of short-term rentals in the community, which have prompted some residents to call for restrictions.

Dozens of Del Mar rentals are advertised on websites such as Airbnb and A combined 143 rentals are listed on both sites, according to a city staff report. Short-term rentals are regarded as less expensive and more flexible than hotels, but the growing number can also be attributed to the ease and effectiveness of online advertising, explained Adam Birnbaum, the city’s planning manager.

“This is not an issue that is unique to Del Mar,” Birnbaum said. “The solutions that are being employed by other jurisdictions are pretty similar as well.”

Del Mar’s northern neighbors, Solana Beach and Encinitas, were among the first cities in San Diego County to set limits on short-term rentals. Both cities initially sought to ban short-term rentals, but the California Coastal Commission backed them as a more affordable alternative to hotels, thus increasing public access to the beach.

Solana Beach adopted an ordinance in 2003 that prohibits rentals for fewer than seven days and requires owners to obtain a permit and pay an annual fee. Encinitas adopted a similar ordinance in 2005 that also requires owners to obtain a permit and pay an annual fee. Both ordinances also require owners to post their contact information on the outside of the building and to respond to complaints within a certain amount of time.

More recently, Carlsbad adopted rules in May that, unlike the other cities, limit short-term rentals to the coastal zone and prohibit them elsewhere in the community. Owners must obtain a business license and a short-term rental permit. Property owners must also pay transient occupancy taxes and Carlsbad Tourism Business Improvement District fees, among other regulations.

In September, Del Mar council members debated what sort of requirements should be part of the new regulations.

A draft ordinance was presented to the Planning Commission on Nov. 10. Commissioners did not take any action, but gathered public input and discussed the issue. About two dozen speakers were divided on the subject, with some seeking a ban on short-term rentals and others requesting the city to allow them.

Council members discussed the draft ordinance during the Nov. 16 council meeting. If approved, it would require property owners who rent their homes to obtain a city permit and follow certain rules, such as a “good neighbor policy,” a code of conduct and consideration. The ordinance would also amend the residential zoning districts to list long- and short-term rentals as an allowed use, subject to regulations. Other rules, including requirements for minimum stays and limits on yearly operations, have yet to be decided.

Speakers were once again divided during the council meeting. Several residents said rentals are changing the character of the residential communities by bringing in strangers and creating noise and parking problems.

“Please stop the industrialization, the commercialization of Del Mar,” said Del Mar resident Robin Crabtree, who argued against changes to the residential zones and requested rentals be prohibited for less than 30 days. “This is not and was not the intent of the community plan.”

About a dozen short-term rental supporters, most of them property owners who rent their homes, argued that rentals provide a necessary source of income and benefit the greater economy. Many said they supported some regulations, such as a good neighbor policy, but opposed limits on length of stays.

“The city of Del Mar has a very, very long history of welcoming visitors,” said Barbara McRoskey, who is temporarily renting her home until she can permanently relocate to Del Mar.

“We already have our own good neighbor policies in place. We’re totally fine with enacting something like that,” she added. “We’re very conscientious of our neighbors. We don’t want to disrupt people.”

Council members were also divided on how to regulate the rentals.

Instead of starting off with strict rules, Councilman Terry Sinnott suggested the council consider a staged approach to solve the problem. If an educational program with the residents and rental community does not work, the city could create a permitting process. And if that does not work, the city could implement additional regulations or even ban rentals in the residential zone.

“I’m really worried about what is being proposed,” Sinnott said. “Not that we don’t have a problem that we need to solve — I’m afraid we’re using a sledgehammer to go after it.”

Councilman Don Mosier supported his colleague’s suggestion.

“I think the number of problems we’re having is relatively small, but those need to be addressed,” he said. “I’m all in favor of a phased approach where we roll out some good neighbor policies as we collect more data.”

Mayor Al Corti and Deputy Mayor Sherryl Parks, however, favored a more aggressive approach.

“It’s something that we need to regulate,” Parks said. “I don’t think we should require neighbors to be the policemen. I think that puts everyone at a bad position.”

“I think that there is a problem,” added Corti, noting the issue came before the council because of residents’ concerns. “Clearly, it seems like it’s a lot more today than it was five years ago.”

Still undecided, Councilman Dwight Worden requested further data from staff and input from the commission regarding impacts to the economy, housing and people in the community, as well as ideas for enforcement and fees.

“I am learning, and my position is still evolving,” he said.

City staff will revise the proposal before returning to the commission for an advisory vote. The council will then make a decision on the regulations.