City Delivers Home-Sharing Smackdown

Council Agrees Industry Violates General Plan, Eats Into Housing

On the heels of their summer vote to lower the boom on short-term vacation rentals in residential neighborhoods, Santa Barbara city councilmembers on Tuesday dealt a decisive blow against home sharing by refusing to develop a law that would regulate the burgeoning cottage industry. While advocates of home sharing ​— ​mostly homeowners renting out extra bedrooms to vacationers ​— ​greatly outnumbered detractors during public testimony, councilmembers were unanimous against it on several fronts, a complete 180 from the city’s recent history of facilitating the practice by handing out business licenses and collecting transient-occupancy tax from hosts.

Primarily, councilmembers said, home sharing goes against the city’s longstanding general plan, which spells out where businesses ​— ​including those designed to lodge out-of-towners temporarily ​— ​are allowed to operate and where residents can live in neighborhood homes set apart from the commercial bustle. They also reiterated their opposition to anything that further drains the near empty stock of long-term rental housing, especially in light of the fact that five days a week, 28,000 commuters work in Santa Barbara from outside the area. Lastly, they questioned how such an ordinance would be enforced, with Councilmember Randy Rowse pointing out the intrusiveness of trying to account for just how many visitors a particular property is hosting, how much income it’s collecting, and whether its owner is indeed living on-site.

“This issue strikes to the core of our jobs up here to preserve communities for our residents,” Councilmember Gregg Hart said, adding that the creation of an effective ordinance would require a lot more cooperation from online hosting platforms, such as Airbnb, which had organized a small rally on the steps of City Hall before the meeting. “Unfortunately, we’re not at that point,” he said. “We don’t have that trust.”

In February, city staffers will be reporting on ongoing enforcement efforts against short-term vacation rentals. Currently, staff reported, the city has 18 active cases, while a handful have already been resolved with the offenders agreeing to shut down and pay back taxes.