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San Diego and countless other cities across the country have taken a whack-a-mole approach to vacation rental platforms like Airbnb.
San Diego officials are increasingly cracking down, telling hosts they need to abide by the rules. The problem: The rules that have long worked for hotels and bed and breakfasts don’t address exactly what Airbnb hosts are doing – renting out rooms or entire homes for less than 30 days.
City Councilmembers Chris Cate and Lorie Zapf are working to reform and clarify the city’s approach to vacation rentals.
“It should be very clear to (hosts) what they need to do to follow the rules and follow the law,” Cate told me last week when he shared his reform proposal.
NBC 7 San Diego’s Catherine Garcia and I explain the city’s recent vacation rental crackdown and what could be next in the latest San Diego Explained:
Since the rules remain confusing for now, I asked officials what hosts who want to follow the law need to do. Here’s what they said.
Pay those bed taxes.
Hoteliers and traditional bed and breakfast hosts add a roughly 11 percent bed tax charge to every hotel bill. The city says vacation rental hosts need to do the same.
This isn’t so simple for Airbnb hosts. The website doesn’t let them collect taxes directly, meaning hosts would need to raise their prices to cover the cost.
Pay business taxes.
Check the zoning rules.
This is where things get complicated.
Airbnb and other vacation rental options come in three general categories: full home or condo rentals, single or multiple room offerings and shared rooms.
Most San Diego Airbnb hosts are renting out entire homes, according to data from Airbnb service app Beyond Pricing.
Robert Vacchi, director of the city’s development services department, said the city doesn’t currently regulate full-home rentals.
That changes when a host remains at home while guests visit – essentially, just renting out a room.
The city says hosts who rent out rooms in areas dominated by single-family homes should get a neighborhood use permit to operate a bed and breakfast, which can take months and cost thousands of dollars. They also need to have extra parking spaces – at least two if they’re renting out rooms.
The city acknowledges, though, that it hasn’t handed out a bed and breakfast permit in about a decade.
Yet the city recently threatened a Burlingame woman with up to $250,000 in fines for renting out two rooms. Her attorney says she’s since stopped using Airbnb.
The city doesn’t require residents in zones dominated by apartments and condos get a permit to operate a bed and breakfast, though their leases may bar them from hosting visitors.
There’s a whole other set of rules for longer stays and for areas reserved for apartments and condos. Vacation rentals for at least seven days in multi-family areas, for example, are technically allowed without a permit. In single-family areas, those stays need to be at least 30 days.
So, basically, it’s complicated. For that reason, city officials suggest would-be vacation rental hosts contact the city’s development service department if they want to start renting out rooms.
That’ll likely come with an upfront cost.
“If you want to do business in the city of San Diego, you have to follow the regulations. That means you get the permit,” Vacchi said. “That means you need to make the investment.”