Short-term rentals prompt questions over land-use authority

Short-term rentals prompt questions over land-use authority
New short-term rentals are only allowed in residential commercial and visitor commercial zones. Courtesy photo

DEL MAR — While awaiting the outcome of a writ of mandate that will determine the California Coastal Commission’s control over land-use issues in Del Mar, City Council at the Sept. 4 meeting extended the forbearance period on short-term rentals in residential zones.

The action allows current nonconforming rentals of less than 30 days that preceded an April 4, 2016, moratorium to continue for at least the next six months.

The writ was submitted after the Coastal Commission rejected an adopted ordinance that would limit short-term rentals to minimum seven-day stays, for no more than 28 days per year.

The plan requires Coastal Commission approval because it affects the coastal zone.

In response, the Coastal Commission proposed a plan that would allow rentals for a minimum of three consecutive days, for no more than 100 days per year.

In July, council members opted to submit a writ of mandate asking the court to clarify who has authority over land-use issues in Del Mar.

According to City Attorney Leslie Devaney, the council is awaiting the outcome of a status conference in the next few months. A response by the Coastal Commission to the writ is due in mid-December.

The writ will allow “clarification” over who has land-use authority in Del Mar, Devaney said.

According to Mayor Dwight Worden, the issue of short-term rentals is “just the most pronounced indicator of the importance of that question.”

Worden, who is optimistic about the future outcome of the writ, is hoping to strike a “middle ground” — helping local short-term rental owners to cover expenses while still preventing the rise of “commercial mini-hotels” in residential zones, he said.

“If we can find something (the Coastal Commission) can live with that meets our objectives, we’d be able to compromise,” he said. “But we’re not willing to compromise our residential integrity.”

Councilman Dave Druker, who opposed the writ at the July meeting, said the 7/28 rule “may be liberalized” if the writ fails.

In Del Mar, “there’s a whole lot of people who aren’t happy with the concept of short-term rental businesses,” Druker added. “It’s a question of a house being turned into a hotel.”

Worden requested that the forbearance period be extended in six-month increments rather than leaving the end date unspecified, so short-term rental owners can plan their contracts accordingly. It’s possible the forbearance period could end sooner, depending on legal outcomes.

The period would end with a “soft landing,” according to Principal Planner Amanda Lee’s presentation.

“As we change the rules, we want the ability for the people who are currently doing short-term rentals to gracefully wrap up their business,” Druker said.

According to the presentation, if a complaint is filed against a short-term rental that existed before the moratorium, owners are required to provide one of the following:

  • Three fully executed rental agreements from before April 4, 2016
  • Del Mar business license for short-term rental at address
  • Income tax return for short-term rental in a year prior to April 4, 2016
  • Short-term rental ads or contracts in year prior to April 4, 2016.

New short-term rentals are only allowed in residential commercial and visitor commercial zones. They are also permitted in Specific Plans that allow short-term rentals, such as L’Auberge Villas or the potential mixed-use development at 941 Camino Del Mar, which will be on the ballot in November.

According to Lee’s presentation, there have been 43 short-term rental property complaints since the moratorium was in effect. Just under half are eligible to continue under the forbearance period. The city applied an escalating fine structure to the offense.

One attendee noted that the fine structure currently in place may not stop owners from continuing to run short-term rentals.

“I think anybody that knows anything about short-term rentals would think that $100, $200, $500 would be a zero deterrent for anyone trying to do a short-term rental,” he said. “ … why would you not risk that?”

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