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New City Attorney Issues Legal Opinion Prohibiting Short-Term Rentals

New City Attorney Issues Legal Opinion Prohibiting Short-Term Rentals

San Diego city attorney Mara Elliott has concluded short-term vacation rentals are not allowed in the city’s residential or commercial areas. Her legal opinion, which runs counter to her predecessor, Jan Goldsmith, was submitted in a memo yesterday for consideration by the city council. Goldsmith had determined current legal code is too vague and would need to be amended for clarification if the city decides to ban vacation rental platforms like Airbnb and VRBO, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.

Elliott’s legal opinion comes as the city planning department is preparing to release a draft proposal for regulating short-term rentals. It is based on the idea that if a use is not listed in the city’s zoning ordinance, it is prohibited. Short-term vacation rentals are not specifically defined, expressly permitted or listed in any of the zone use categories, including residential or commercial, she said. Elliott undertook this task at the request of Councilwoman Barbara Bry, who represents communities like La Jolla, which made prohibition of vacation rentals in residential neighborhoods a campaign issue last year. Elliott and Bry left the door open for reaching a compromise to permit some form of home-sharing.

Airbnb spokesperson Jasmine Mora issued a statement to city officials pointing out the city’s zoning code has not kept pace with the rapidly evolving sharing economy, and called on the city council to enact common sense regulations that ensure accountability and neighborhood quality. She said thousands of San Diegans rely on home-sharing income to make ends meet and supplement their incomes.

Last November, the city council rejected a proposal by former Council member Sherri Lighttner to outlaw short-term rentals in single-family neighborhoods. City officials have been grappling with this issue for two years and tasked planning staff to come up with regulations.

If a city adopts a new code to prevent vacation rentals in a beach access area, it has to be approved by the California Coastal Commission. The Coastal Commission is struggling to find ways to create more low-cost lodging in coastal areas and considers short-term vacation rental platforms like Airbnb and VRBO one way to accomplish this.