Tracking down alleged offenders through online research, neighbor complaints, and subpoenaed information from companies that connect vacationers to short-term rentals in Santa Barbara, city zoning enforcement officials recently mailed 389 letters reminding owners and operators that such activity is “unlawful in Santa Barbara unless [it’s permitted and] located in zoning districts which allow hotels, motels, or bed and breakfast inns.” The letters represent the city’s latest effort to get a handle on the proliferation of short-term (fewer than 30 days) rentals — both whole-house and owner-occupied homestay accommodations — within city limits.
For years — and against its own zoning code — the city permitted short-term rentals and collected transient-occupancy taxes on the cash flow. But with the arrival of online facilitators such as Airbnb, the market spiked, and more long-term residents started complaining about entire neighborhoods being fundamentally changed by steady waves of traffic congestion and late-night noise by out-of-towners.
The letters encourage recipients to voluntarily comply with city zoning rules, shut down operations, pay back taxes, and allow inspectors to visit rental units, with probable cause. “I still disagree with the direction the city is going on this,” said Theo Kracke, owner of Paradise Retreats, which offers high-end vacation rentals throughout Santa Barbara County. “But [sending out these informational letters] is what the city should have done when this issue first came up, instead of sending out those strongly worded enforcement notices last year.” Kracke heads up STRSantaBarbara.org, an effort to help rewrite the city’s rules on short-term rentals.