I had rotten luck in law school. I always seemed to rent the apartment next door to the resident party animal, the one who jacked up the stereo at 2 a.m. to unwind. I dreamed of buying my own home, a place where I could quietly relax and raise a family.

I’m lucky to have that now, but in a growing number of neighborhoods the dream of a safe and quiet family home is being drowned out by short-term vacation rentals. A short-term rental is the whole home rental of an apartment, condo or home for a short period of time – a few days or a couple of weeks. They’re often owned by business investors and operators, are located in residential neighborhoods and are generally not owner-occupied.

City lawmakers didn’t anticipate this boom in short-term rentals. As a result, many single-family neighborhoods have become tourist zones with a steady stream of visitors shuffling in and out. Even worse, some areas have become notorious for their unruly, disrespectful guests and absentee landlords who can’t be reached when problems arise.

San Diego’s municipal code doesn’t mention short-term rentals or allow them in residential neighborhoods. The problem is thousands of short-term rentals are operating all over San Diego, while our city’s laws remain unclear and unenforced.

City leaders must update the laws to protect our neighborhoods, lay out clear rules for home sharing and explicitly spell out where short-term rentals are a permissible use. Then, the city must enforce the law, something it is currently failing to do. By failing to enforce the law, the city is failing our neighborhoods.

We can begin by looking at how other cities are addressing short-term rentals. Coronado forbids rentals of fewer than 26 days in residential zones to maintain the “character of local neighborhoods.” And Coronado is backing up its regulations with enforcement by monitoring listings and referring problem cases for further investigation and, when necessary, prosecution.

Los Angeles has proposed measures to ensure city officials have access to up-to-date listings data so they can properly tax legal home-sharing and crack down on illegal rentals. Notably, L.A. is working to address the impact short-term rentals have on affordable housing with measures that would bar rentals of rent-stabilized units and apartments designated for affordable housing.

Countless other cities have amended their municipal codes to address the growing number of short-term rentals in their communities. Yet, San Diego has taken little action.

I am sympathetic to San Diegans who want to rent out a room or a couch in their homes to make ends meet. The law should accommodate this kind of genuine home-sharing. But when short-term rentals are abused or unregulated, as is happening in San Diego now, residential neighborhoods suffer.

I’ve met San Diegans who are ready to pack up and leave the homes they’ve occupied for decades because they’re surrounded by out-of-control occupants. Their complaints have fallen on deaf ears and they’re losing hope that city officials will ever address their concerns.

It’s past time for clear, concise regulations and a consistent enforcement policy for short-term vacation rentals. Ignoring the law leaves neighborhoods without a voice.

Mara Elliott is chief deputy city attorney, counsel to the city’s audit committee and a candidate for city attorney. Elliott’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.


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