Unpermitted short-term rentals leading cause of STR complaints in North County coastal, records show
Encinitas updated its short-term rental regulations last year, as Del Mar and Solana Beach work on revisions to their local STR laws
Unpermitted short-term rental units have accounted for most of the reported code compliance violations throughout the North County coastal region, based on a review of records from each city that cover 2018 to midway through 2023.
As platforms such as Airbnb and Vrbo remain popular, short-term rental regulations have been a priority along the coast from Del Mar to Oceanside. With concerns ranging from disturbances to neighbors to housing units that are essentially erased from the market as a statewide housing crisis persists, here is how cities have been addressing short-term rentals:
Approximately 45% of the 263 reported violations recorded by city staff over that five-year span were for illegal short-term rentals.
Last year, the City Council approved an ordinance that limited short-term rental permits for non-hosted properties to no more than 2.5% of the city’s total housing units.
“The rules that we have in place currently make it somewhat painful for cheaters,” Encinitas Mayor Tony Kranz said. “So if people engage in short-term rentals that are not permitted, it’s very likely they’re going to get caught and the fines we have make it a little more painful.”
Another common description for reported violations was “lack of best efforts,” which was a catchall term that the city used for multiple complaints at a single address. City officials now use more specific terms.
Other reported violations recorded by code compliance included illegal use of a short-term rental as a wedding venue, loud music, excessive noise, excessive number of vehicles and permit not displayed.
“Neighborhoods with single-family home zoning, they resent having one of the properties be essentially a hotel where they’re frequently getting new neighbors, so to speak,” Kranz said. “And those new neighbors stay for a short period of time, and maybe they’re not as courteous because they aren’t going to be there long-term, so they don’t have any problems creating a ruckus.”
Encinitas also works with an outside company that helps track Airbnb and other listings within the community, which the city uses to monitor potential permit violations.
Council members have been discussing updates to the city’s short-term rental ordinance, which is almost 20 years old. Mayor Lesa Heebner said they will consider potential changes later this month or in October.
According to city staff, there have been about 250 to 350 STR permits issued each year, equal to about 5% of the housing stock in Solana Beach.
The city had 37 reported code compliance violations from 2018 to June 2023, most involving permit issues.
“The intent here is to solicit as much feedback as we can get to understand what should be done,” Solana Beach Deputy Mayor David Zito said earlier this year. “Our current ordinance is over 20 years old, it was crafted long before anything like Airbnb or Vrbo was really a thing that was around, and so it’s definitely time to look at making some adjustments.”
The Del Mar City Council will discuss a short-term rental ordinance in September. The city has been beset over the past several years with legal challenges, battles with California Coastal Commission and delays from the Covid-19 pandemic that have prevented passage of a permanent set of regulations. The current law is a temporary forbearance policy that allows properties to operate as short-term rentals if they can prove they were in operation before April 2016.
According to city records, reported violations of illegal short-term rentals typically lead to a process of verifying whether the unit really was being used as an STR, and, if so, whether the unit qualifies under the forbearance policy.
“There has been a long-term tradition of having short-term rentals and vacation rentals,” Del Mar City Councilmember Dave Druker said during a July meeting. “We want to make sure as we create these ordinances that we understand that is what’s happened in the past. My assumption is that we’re not going to turn around and say that short-term rentals are not allowed, period.”
The city approved an ordinance in 2019 that allows short-term rentals throughout the city, except for in mobile home parks and nonconforming panhandle lots.
Of 1,337 reported violations, 49.5% were classified as “Unpermitted STR.” Some of the other reported violations included 63 reports of excessive occupants, 26 for excessive noise. There were also a little more than 150 cases recorded for either “TOT Reporting Required” or “TOT Account Required,” referring to the transient occupancy tax that businesses including hotels and short-term rentals have to pay.
Carlsbad allows short-term rentals only within the coastal zone, based on regulations approved by the City Council that took effect in 2015.
About 84% of the 666 reported violations involved illegal short-term rentals, either unpermitted within the coastal zone or operating in the non-coastal zone where they are banned.
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