Short-term rentals issue continues to split community

DEL MAR — Council members had more questions than answers following a status report at the Nov. 16 meeting on proposed regulations for short-term rentals.

After deeming a draft ordinance too onerous, strict and difficult to enforce they sent the document back to the Planning Commission for refinement with a request for additional information.

Before making any final decisions, or even moving forward, council members said they want to know if there is a significant problem or if the complaints are the result of a few isolated incidents. They said they would also like more data on the economic impacts and how the short-term rental market is affecting the housing stock.

Websites such as Airbnb and VRBO.com (Vacation Rentals by Owner) have made renting a home on a short-term basis easier, and the practice has seen about a 20 percent uptick in Del Mar in the past few years.

With that has come an increase in complaints about the related noise, parking, trash and change in community character.

The issue has been addressed during several public meetings since 2009, each time resulting in lengthy public comment periods from people on both sides of the issue.

Current laws don’t allow or prohibit vacation rentals but the practice has been going on for decades, especially during the summer. It is estimated about 10 percent of Del Mar’s housing stock is used for short-term rentals.

Those who favor allowing them, including property managers and residents who make their homes available, say it provides a number of economic benefits to businesses in the city and homeowners who need the additional income so they can afford to live in Del Mar.

The draft ordinance requires emergency 24-hour contact information of the owner, operator and manager to be posted clearly on the inside and outside of the unit. A response to complaints must be responded to within 45 minutes.

A good-neighbor policy that will be adopted by the city must also be posted and distributed to owners, leasing and booking agents, operators and tenants.

Additionally, there should be requirements related to the availability of onsite parking spaces and a prohibition or limitations on oversized vehicles.

Adequate trash collection bins must be available and collection schedules observed. Tenants will be required to comply with city noise regulations.

Owners will need to obtain a permit or license and violations of any of the rules could result in fines, a hearing for possible revocation of the permit or forfeiture of the right to operate the rental for a specified period.

There are also requirements for security deposits and insurance.

“The costs are incredible,” resident Laura DeMarco said, describing the proposed new law as a “full-time employment act for property managers.”

“It’s not something that’s supportive of mom-and-pop rentals that proliferate in Del Mar,” added DeMarco, who supports the rentals but not the ordinance. “We have a community where you have elderly people on fixed incomes that use a couple of weeks during the summer to pay for their property taxes.

“It looks to me like a revenue grab and a real overreach of regulation,” she said.

“We do not want a zoning change to any residential zones in Del Mar to include short-term rentals,” said Robin Crabtree, who lives in the beach community where many of the homes are used as vacation rentals.

“We do not want rentals to be allowed less than 30 days,” she added. “We do not want our residential zones turned into commercial zones with hotels next door to every home.

“Do you a have hotel next to your home?” she asked council members. “If not, come on down to … check out what other people have.”

Some of the nearly 20 people who spoke at the meeting said they have never had a complaint about their renters. Residents say that’s because there’s no mechanism in place to do so.

“Every time we have a discussion about short-term rentals I learn something, so my perspective is still evolving,” Councilman Dwight Worden said.

There are at least two sides to the economic impacts, and it is unknown if enforcement is feasible or “an exercise in futility,” he said.

“We do have to solve the problem of short-term renters …causing problems,” Councilman Terry Sinnott, adding that he would like a “better understanding” of what is causing them.

He described the proposed ordinance as “using a sledgehammer” to address the issues. He recommended a four-phased approach that started with implementing a good-neighbor policy.

If that doesn’t work, he said, the city should require a permit. Phase three includes fines and the final step would be only allowing short-term rentals of 30 days or more in residential neighborhoods.

Councilman Don Mosier said he liked the idea but still wanted concrete data on how big and what the problems are and how they are being solved.

“I think the number of problems we’re having is relatively small but it does need to be addressed,” said Mosier, adding that it would be “disingenuous” to prohibit short-term rentals especially since he uses them when he travels.

“The proposed draft regulation is far too onerous and frankly impossible to implement,” he said. “This is a community that has a long history of short-term rentals and to say we’re not going to do it anymore seems like a dramatic change that far outweighs the problems.

“Let’s deal sensibly with the problems we encounter and not penalize everybody who wants to rent their homes,” Mosier added. “This proposed document is far too strict and unenforceable to work and it really outweighs the problem we’re experiencing. … This is not a police state. This is a small community where neighbor-to-neighbor contact should be able to solve a lot of these problems.”

Mayor Al Corti and Councilwoman Sherryl Parks said they support minimal regulations at the least.

Parks said every decision shouldn’t always be about money. Corti said something needs to be done “to bring some peace into the community.”

The Planning Commission was tentatively scheduled to revisit the issue during the December meeting but that will likely happen later to give the panel more time to respond to the information requested by the City Council.

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