SOLANA BEACH — Leaders in Solana Beach are considering amendments to the city’s vacation rental regulations to bring more rentals into compliance and prevent nuisances to neighbors.
The coastal destination city generally has between 250 and 350 permitted vacation rentals, or short-term rentals, each year, with 267 counted as of 2022. In addition, city officials estimate that there could be between 100 and 150 unpermitted rentals operating in the city.
At a May 24 meeting, several City Council members said they would like to see updates to the city’s 2003 vacation rentals ordinance, including increased penalties for violations and a cap on the percentage of units allowed in certain areas.
“Our current ordinance is over 20 years old — it was crafted long before anything like Airbnb or Vrbo was really a thing that was around, so it’s definitely time to look at making some adjustments,” said Councilmember Dave Zito.
Owners of short-term rentals in Solana Beach are restricted from offering stays under the city’s 7-day minimum. However, a quick search on Airbnb or VRBO reveals several options for stays as short as one night in the city.
Kimberly Jackson, owner of Vacation Rentals by Kimberly, which operates short-term rentals in Solana Beach and other cities, said it is mostly the unpermitted rentals causing complaints about noise and other issues.
“Many of the issues your neighbors are experiencing … stem from [short term vacation rentals] that are not permitted and don’t even know the rules,” Jackson said. “They’re giving the good guys that operate responsibly a really bad name.”
City Manager Greg Wade said the city is responsive to complaints, most concerning a lack of permits. A first violation of the ordinance incurs a $500 penalty, followed by $1,000 for a second offense in the same year and permit revocation for a third strike in a year.
However, it can be difficult to track down some of these rentals. Staff are in the process of hiring a consultant to help track down those without permits.
“Sometimes they’re tricky to track these down, particularly those that don’t have permits,” Wade said.
Unpermitted rentals also lead to a loss of the city’s transient occupancy tax, or TOT, revenue. According to a staff report, the city collected $1.1 million in TOT from vacation rentals last fiscal year and approximately $850,000 in the first eight months of fiscal year 2022-23.
City staff said most permitted vacation rentals in Solana Beach are concentrated south of Plaza Street and west of Coast Highway 101 in blufftop condos along South Sierra Avenue. Around 13% of the units in this area are vacation rentals.
Council members said while they respect the long history of vacation rentals in that area, they would like to see a cap on such rentals in single-family neighborhoods, where the rate is around 4%.
“I think it’s super important to protect our neighborhoods, because nobody wants to have a short-term vacation rental next to them, even if they’re really quiet, they’re still kind of in the vacation mode … and you just don’t have neighbors,” said Mayor Lesa Heebner.
San Diego has adopted caps on the percentage of units used as vacation rentals in certain areas. For whole-home rentals, the number of vacation rental licenses cannot exceed 1% of the city’s total housing units, or around 5,100.
The only exception is Mission Beach, where the number of licenses for whole-home rentals is limited to 30% of the total units in the community planning area.
In addition to capping the number of units in single-family areas, the Solana Beach council said they would favor limiting the number of days a property can be rented out per year.
“If you limit the number of days they can be rented, that might make them less attractive to someone who might purchase a property in order to just use it as a short term vacation rental,” said Councilmember Jewel Edson.
Some residents have also requested for the 7-day stay minimum to be raised. However, City Attorney Johanna Canlas said the city could only have a 7-day limit by compromising with the California Coastal Commission, which initially pushed the minimum stay to three days.
Once the City Council approves changes to the ordinance, they will be passed on to the state commission for final approval.
Councilmember Kristi Becker pointed out that while vacation rentals can be a nuisance for those directly neighboring them, they can be an essential source of income for some residents and bring visitors to local restaurants and other businesses.
“Some people do need the family income for these things. It’s also one of the things that really helps our local economy,” Becker said. “There are good things about it.”