Short-term vacation rental explosion

“No one wants a clown car house next door.”

Locations of short-term rentals in San Diego
  • Locations of short-term rentals in San Diego
  • from Save San Diego Neighborhoods media kit

Locals in Mission Beach and Pacific Beach who say their neighborhoods are increasingly jammed full of unregulated mini-hotels are right, according to the city treasurer’s annual count of short-term rentals. But other neighborhoods — downtown and North Park among them — are also seeing an uptick in apartments, condos, and homes that are no longer places where families live.

Just more than 3300 homes are listed on the treasurer's transit occupancy tax rolls. That's somewhere between a half and a third of the estimated 6600 and 10,000 (Save San Diego Neighborhoods) short-term vacation rentals throughout the city. Both say their estimates are based on searches of sites including Airbnb, VRBO and FlipKey. The number registered with the treasurer is up between 15 and 25 percent from last year, according to the city's data, released in spreadsheet form.

Predictably, the majority of those rentals are in beach communities — there are more than 2600 in Mission Beach, Ocean Beach, La Jolla, and Pacific Beach. But there are also nearly 200 registered in North Park-Normal Heights, and downtown has 141 registered listings.

Among the downtown listings: five apartments in the Heritage Apartments and another four in the apartment building kitty-corner to the Heritage. Heritage has a no-vacation-rental policy, the management company said. Form 15, at 14th and Market streets, has 16 rental units registered. Form 15 declined to "participate" by articulating their policy.

In Mission Valley, five apartments at Aquatera are registered as short-term rentals named the Sunshine Suites, with other Sunshine Suites at three other locations.

Meanwhile, The city has two proposals afloat from two groups of city-council members.

Save San Diego Neighborhoods — an organization that emphasizes the problems in the beach areas — has been struggling with the issue of rentals for several years.

Tom Coats, the immediate past president of the group (he resigned this week) has lived next door to a short-term rental house in Pacific Beach for eight and a half years. He says the five-bedroom house is not one of the dreaded party houses in his neighborhood.

“It’s a house used for reunions and family gatherings, so the adults put the kids to bed and sit on the deck talking and drinking wine,” he said. “I lay in bed and hear them many nights a month.” Another nearby house is up for sale, Coats said. But not as a family home. “It’s being sold as an investment — the listing says the average monthly rent revenues are $9827. How can a family compete with that? We’ll get more and more investors until we’re a neighborhood without neighbors.”

(The treasurer’s office declined to provide answers to any questions regarding transient occupancy tax revenue totals, instead directing questions to the NextRequest system. Use of the system results in the questions being delivered to the same department staff that I queried. It does, however, add weeks of delay and layers of handling, and prohibits immediate clarification or additional questions.)

The city treasurer’s August 2017 spreadsheet listing rentals does not include comprehensive owner information and mailing addresses for property taxes, thus making it difficult to identify investors who have been buying homes and converting them to rentals.

The estimate of just a third of the owners registering is pretty consistent with what San Francisco found when the Office of Short Term Rentals began enforcing its 2014 ordinance, according to Omar Masry, acting director.

“No one wants a clown car house next door,” Masry said. “We’ve had people put 16 bunk beds in each room and create a de facto hostel….

“We tend to not get complaints about the registered rentals. The worst offenders we see do things like sign leases to rent from unsuspecting landlords and then set the premises up as short-term rentals,” he said. “Our ordinance is structured so the landlord is responsible — so we try to work with them to get the units into compliance.”

In San Francisco, horror stories abound. In a city where the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $4500, landlords have kicked out most or all of the rent-controlled tenants to turn apartment buildings into, well, unregulated hotels, he said. They’ve caught illegal entrepreneurs leasing industrial buildings, and there are even RVs and vans that are offered for overnight guests.

Like San Diego, the Bay Area has an “investor class," people who rent or buy multiple residences specifically to turn them into short-term rentals. Mission Beach has been inundated by the investor class, community members say: on October 19th, there were 35 rentals located on the 1.3-mile-long strand.

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More from SDReader


Supply and demand it’s as simple as this. As long as the demand keeps on growing. People will find ways, legal or not, to meet it. Greed, not good neighbors, is our culture’s newest goal.

It's "greed" when someone else does it. When you do it, it's a necessary way to get needed cash to pay your family's bills.

This may explain why there are few, if any, new hotels or motels being built in the hot spots in the city. The old and run down facilities that charge waaay too much for their rooms are still competing with the short-term renters. King's Inn in Mission Valley is to be converted to a religious-theme facility, and in excess of 200 rooms are taken out of the market, for example.

It would seem to me that existing zoning laws, those enacted long before this AirBnB plague came along, can be used to stop the scourge. Oh, there are those who claim that any sort of regulation is tantamount to taking their property, but a century into those 'hoods, all should have known the rules. They do know the rules; they choose to ignore them and to howl when the city says they have to alter their ways.

I think you would find that the city is producing lots of new units of hotel rooms in the city. Most hotels are charging a lot more than what short term rentals can provide per night...

What Mr. Masry told me is that hotels haven't weighed in heavily because they don't think they lose much business to short term vacation rentals - it's a different sector of the lodgings market. That's one of the dilemmas regulators face: that STVRs allow less affluent people to visit places they otherwise wouldn't be able to afford to - myself included.

We have a housing crisis. There have been many solutions offered up through the last decades but there is always a reason more low income housing can't be built. It is great for property owners who routinely fight any low income projects like an existential threat. The zoning laws appear to be unenforced depending on who gets elected City Attorney. We need more units. The high rents are contributing to the homeless crisis which just created an epidemic. How much worse does it need to get before we actually do something?

Where are all of these new units supposed to go? Can there be no open, green space left anywhere? Is the vision of San Diego to be nothing but hundred-story apartment buildings crammed full of "low income" people who take more from the economy than they provide?

Those who cannot afford to live here need to move. Period. No whining about "fairness" or "I've lived here X years" or "My family is from here" or "My dream has always been to live at the beach!" Nobody cares. Reality doesn't care. Most of the rest of the country has a much lower cost of living, and it's time for people to be adult about reality instead of whining for handouts.

To be fair, the city of San Diego is a city, it is whatever people decide it it is. If as a community everyone decides the city of San Diego should be a stagnant low population town next to the border of Mexico... that's what it will become. I think however a lot of people want the city of San Diego to be more than that... and that will require building up.

I think your characterization of people living in high rises being "low income" seems pretty out of step with reality (not to mention a little callous). The rents of most high rises preclude anyone with even a moderate income of living there.

I'd also point out that the space where the units will be built necessarily would be in existing urban spaces. No one is talking about using parkland to achieve this. San Diego (thanks to parks such as Balboa, Mission Bay, Embarcadero) actually has some of the most parkland per resident of any other major US city. If it is greenery alone you are concerned about, take a walk through some of the urban neighborhoods to see their tree-lined streets to understand that an urban setting doesn't necessitate bare, characterless, concrete enclosures.

I think what I really see from your response isn't so much clear logic as emotion. A fear of change and the unknown. The fact is that most of our growth is endogenous... coming from within, which is to say people's children and grand children. San Diego will not always have a population of 3.5 million, it will likely continue to grow. The question then doesn't become, how do we deter our own families from living where they grew up, but what changes need to take place to accommodate them? It is uncomfortable to wrestle with what change will mean for you and your community, but if you are a constructive force, you can have a positive impact on how change is manifested where you live.

Indeed! OB is getting better as a result of st rentals not worse...Get rid of all the dirtbags!

There are easily 4,000 'housing units' NOT occupied by San Diegans - including apartments meant for housing - that have become mini-hotels instead. Some argue that stricter regulation would immediately make those homes available to locals. That's one of the key arguments in San Francisco's decision to strictly regulate STVRs.

Locals need to get better jobs and make more money...regulation won't help...SFis a perfect example of how regulations made it worse....SF is a shit show of regulation and cottage industry of attorneys representing tenants who use the legal system to get free or reduced rents, or in some cases a free house...Affordability is still a problem, combine that with skeptical landlords who won't take a chance on anything less than a perfect tenant...Good luck with your "solution" its already been tried and is failing miserably as modeled by SF and the bay area. Let free markets regulate themselves....

This controversy does not address other issues - hotels have fire inspections, safety and health inspections, rules governing swimming pools through county health regulations. None of these apply to airbnb. Nobody answers why the hotel industry is ok with this. In some other parts of the country, strict rules prevail. In North Carolina, I heard this on the car radio "If you don't stay there, they don't stay there. If you don't understand this message, call this number for more information ..."; I got the message, and I don't even live there. A long tradition of resident's sharing the premises as a real B&B is permitted. Absentee landlords, resident's or anything else is not.

Here is a description of the law in Asheville, NC: ""In November, the city made short-term rentals, which they define as 'An overnight stay in the entire home,' illegal. It also changed the homestay ordinance, requiring a $208 permit, annual inspection, and a full-time resident be present to rent a room." --Western North Carolina News, ABC

Homeowners in neighborhoods overrun with short-term rentals should identify the owner of the property and file lawsuits against them as well as filing complaints with the local bought-and-paid-for politicos and call the cops every time there is noise, illegal parking etc. The homeowners and residents need to make the neighborhood unfriendly for short-term rentals.

Real residents just want to live and avoid aggravation. Lawsuits, which are used to real effect by certain strata of society, are costly. Complaining to your city councilman/woman in SD might have some effect; just remember that they are trying to make everyone happy, something they cannot do. The cops really do have better things to do than deal with noise complaints. And usually those complaints fall through the cracks and have little effect.

This is a code issue, and the old zoning should still be followed. Turn a house into a day-to-day rental, and you're outside the code. The hotel industry here isn't OK with all this, but so far they haven't been all that noisy with their complaints, maybe because of their stinky reputation.

Real B&B operations generally try to be on good terms with the neighbors, and in some areas have the best looking and best maintained homes, which makes the neighborhood better. It's this absentee ownership, and often absentee property management, that makes a mess of things.

Been doing this for two+ years. Made some progress, but watching the City threaten action, then reneging on it at the Hearing and not enforcing what was said on Record in front of a judge...completely and utterly disgusted with our justice system and the City. Deep pockets killing our city.

Hotel industry backed the latest attempt...Yep deep pockets....

Apartments which convert to AirBnB will also be eligible to apply for liquor licenses. Welcome to a new convenience store selling beer, wine and snacks in your neighborhood, under a liberal definition of "guest." That's in addition to other features of this type of license.

So the California ABC is going to allow this? Where/when was this announced?

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