City fines woman for operating Airbnb rentals

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SAN DIEGO — The City of San Diego sent a strong warning Thursday to those who currently or are thinking about listing their home on Airbnb and similar websites.

A San Diego Administrative Law Judge ratified that owner-occupied residential room rentals, similar to those of Airbnb, are illegal without a homeowner paying $5,000 to $10,000 for a permit. Due to this ruling, the precedent has been set that every owner-occupied short-term rental in the City of San Diego is now considered a bed and breakfast.

Councilman Cate issued a memo to the City’s Smart Growth and Land Use Committee outlining proposed municipal code changes regarding San Diego’s regulations surrounding short-term vacation rentals in light of today’s sharing economy.

“I feel that every property owner should have the option to rent all or a portion of their home on a short-term basis. A thorough review revealed that those individuals wishing to rent out their property for a period of 30 days or less do not have clear laws by which to abide,” stated Councilman Chris Cate.

The news comes too late for retired school teacher, Rachel Smith. Back in 2013, Smith, 70, started renting out the two spare rooms of her 1912 craftsman home in Burlingame, just east of Balboa Park. Neighbors quickly complained about the increased foot traffic. That got the zoning inspector’s attention and a cease and desist letter was sent out.

“I thought, the city doesn’t understand what I’m doing. I’m not running a bed and breakfast. I’m doing Airbnb. I get to screen all clients. This is different,” Smith said.

Smith kept operating for another year and for that, the city slapped her with a $22,400 fine. She has since gotten a lawyer and it’s unclear exactly how much, if any, she will have to pay of this fine.

Councilman Cate said the proposed municipal code must still go through public comment before the Council votes. This could be done by the end of the fall.

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