Short-term rental plan too soft, say some council members

Short-term rental plan too soft, say some council members
A council subcommittee continues work on a plan to regulate short-term rentals. A plan introduced at the Aug. 1 meeting was considered to lenient. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek

DEL MAR — A new proposal developed by Councilmen Terry Sinnott and Dwight Worden to regulate short-term rentals was deemed too lenient at the Aug. 1 meeting and sent back for refinement.

The conceptual plan called for a tiered regulatory approach that focused on tenants, landlords, rental agents and neighbors as the stakeholders. It identified three problems, each with causes and recommended solutions, and included more than a dozen goals.

The first problem is that short-term vacation renters disrupt neighborhoods with bad behavior that oftentimes results in nuisances, noise, parking and trash impacts.

Worden and Sinnott opined the primary reasons are no economic benefit to behave as a good neighbor and a lack of enforcement.

Their remedies include making people aware of good neighbor behavior and what is expected, tying permits to good tenant behavior and a lack of complaints, and requiring financial penalties for landlords and tenants for bad behavior.

The second identified issue is that the number and frequency of short-term rentals are changing the “fabric” of residential neighborhoods from solely residential to visitor-serving.

The causes include a zoning code that does not permit vacation rentals that nonetheless have historically been allowed in Del Mar.

Additionally, the problems have increased recently because technology has encouraged a substantial increase in the demand, changing what has traditionally been long-term residential housing.

Sinnott and Worden suggested limiting the number and frequency of short-term rental properties allowed in each zone, spreading them out and enforcing the regulations with stiff penalties.

The city also does not know the extent to which short-term rentals are impacting neighborhoods.

“Anecdotal feedback,” the report states, is used to make regulatory decisions because the city does not collect data or require permits and code enforcement is complaint driven.

Sinnott and Worden suggested allowing short-term rentals and then collecting data on their number and frequency and creating an easy process for recording complaints.

A successful plan would, among other things, ensure Community Plan consistency, control adverse spillover impacts, protect the housing stock, have a viable enforcement and administration process, be cost-neutral to the city and comply with the California Coastal Act.

Phase one of the pilot program would not limit the number of current or future vacation rentals but only allow a certain number of occupants per unit based on the number of bedrooms and parking spaces.

There would be a minimum duration of two nights, with a maximum number of stays per month and year.

Adoption of a good-neighbor policy would be mandatory, as would a permit and 24-hour contact information to accept and respond to complaints.

The city would only investigate complaints. Units that had a certain number of complaints per year would be denied renewals and owners who did not have a permit would be fined.

According to the proposal the regulations would not change unless there were a specified number of complaints quarterly per area. If that happened the plan would move to phase two, with stricter regulations that include higher fines and a decrease in the length and frequency of allowable stays.

The rules would continue up to a fourth phase that banned rentals less than 30 days.

More than two dozen speakers with opinions on both sides of the argument addressed council during the nearly two-hour hearing.

Many property owners — at the August meeting, during several others and via emails — say they depend on the rental income and some said they could not afford to live in Del Mar if they were not allowed to rent their properties.

They have all said, however, that they support commonsense regulations.

Neighbors reiterated the negative impacts short-term renters have on the community.

Council members agreed the proposal should start at the phase-two level, with stricter regulations. But they are split on overall support for allowing short-term rentals.

Mayor Sherryl Parks and Worden say they should be prohibited in residential zones. Sinnott and Don Mosier support them citywide, but with regulations, especially since a ban would likely be challenged by the California Coastal Commission.

Al Corti said he ran for council to “make the right decisions for the community.”

“This is one of the more difficult ones,” he said, noting that he initially supported enforcement according to the city code.

“Every day that we’re vetting the issue I’m learning more,” he said. “I haven’t really changed my position in that regard other than, I’ve been advised, that enforcing it is problematic.

“We have not been enforcing it since 1959, when we became a city, and were not enforcing it today and it’s a problem,” Corti added. “I side with the two positions on the table. My sense is that it’s not going to go down smoothly. We’re going to be challenged. We’re going to be sued. We’re going to be in court … and it’s going to proliferate. So I don’t see that as a good course for the community.”

Sinnott and Worden agreed to refine the plan. In the meantime, a moratorium banning any new rentals is in effect until November. Council members will likely extend it to continue working on regulations.

During that time a hotline to log complaints will be set up. The city may conduct a survey to garner more input once the improved, stricter plan crafted.

The balance of support on council could also shift as Mosier said he is not seeking re-election in November.

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