City of Santa Barbara from the air | Credit: John Wiley/WikiCommons

Short-term rentals have exploded in popularity in recent years, and in Santa Barbara, it is estimated that thousands of rooms are available online through services like Airbnb and VRBO, despite city codes restricting these types of rentals in most parts of the city.

Now the city is looking to address the lack of enforcement on these illegal short-term rentals, with the Finance Committee set to consider a Short-Term Rental Enforcement Pilot Program to curb the growth and preserve the city’s already limited housing stock.

In 2015, in response to a “significant increase” in short-term rentals, the city set aside $170,000 to “begin proactive enforcement of existing zoning regulations on unlawful vacation rentals,” according to the staff report for this Tuesday’s City Council meeting. But the actual work of attempting to gather the necessary evidence for enforcement proved too “time-consuming and costly” due to the sheer amount of unlawful rentals in the city.

“Unfortunately, what was learned from that enforcement experience is that the amount and resources allocated at that time was nowhere near enough to curb the explosion of the short-term rental market,” the report reads.

With Santa Barbara in the midst of a housing crisis, and after a wave of complaints about vacation rentals, city officials are set to tackle the problem in earnest, beginning with setting aside $947,000- $1,402,000 to begin the 12-month process of gathering data and investigating just how big of a problem these rentals are in the city.

“In many areas of the City, unregulated short-term rentals are inherently incompatible with the surrounding land uses and neighborhood due to the intensity of use and potential nuisance impacts related to noise, parking, littering, traffic congestion, public safety, ‘party houses,’ loss of community, and the displacement of long-term residents,” the report says.

In addition, these types of rentals are typically “far more lucrative than renting the unit on a long-term basis,” which city staff says can take away already scarce housing for long-term rentals and “may encourage tenant evictions if a landlord concludes that they can earn more from short-term rentals than from a long-term tenant,” on top of violating the city’s zoning codes in inland areas.

The Finance Committee will hear the issue during its meeting at noon on Tuesday, and if approved, the City Council will be directed to adopt a resolution to appropriate the funds for the one-year pilot program.


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