Short-term housing rentals are hurting San Diegans, residents say

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SAN DIEGO – It’s no secret that there’s a housing crisis in San Diego, but protesters claim one company is making it even tougher to find a place to live.

“If I’m elected mayor, I will start shutting down units like this immediately,” Councilwoman Barbara Bry said. “This building over there was approved by the city for residential units, and it’s been converted into a mini hotel for tourists.”

Standing alongside protesters from the group Saving San Diego Neighborhoods, Bry said a company called Sonder has taken over nearly all the apartments in a building on University Avenue in North Park and is renting them out, Airbnb-style. Bry said doing so is illegal because it’s not what the space was built or permitted for.

A look at the company’s website shows it offers rooms all over the country, including in dozens of locations around San Diego.

In a statement to FOX 5, a spokesperson for Sonder wrote, “Sonder San Diego strictly complies with all local laws and pays all local taxes, period. Contrary to recent false claims, our location on University Avenue is fully licensed, legal and not zoned ‘residential' but for commercial and mixed-use with visitor accommodation allowed by right. We look forward to continuing to grow and give back in San Diego while working with the City on real solutions for affordable housing.”

“Go ask a hotel operator what they think of a company like Sonder,” Brian Curry with Saving San Diego Neighborhoods said. “A hotel operator who is paying for security, paying for a front desk, paying for inspections. Ask what they think of a corporation like this coming in and taking units and competing directly with them.”

According to Curry, not only is the business model unfair to existing hotels -- it’s unfair to people living in San Diego. Since 2013, the number of short-term vacation rentals has gone up 800%. “That’s 13,000 units of housing supply taken away from San Diego residents,” Curry said.

“When owners take apartments like these off the markets, then that means there’s fewer available, and rent on the other units are higher,” Bry said.

FOX 5 reached out to San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s office Thursday for clarification on whether Sonder was operating legally on University Avenue but had not heard back as of Thursday evening. However, a spokesperson wrote on behalf of the mayor that Faulconer supported an ordinance last year that would have added restrictions to short-term rentals, adding, “The City Council adopted that ordinance and later rescinded after a successful referendum campaign.”

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