SLO is backward on short-term rental policy

jtarica@thetribunenews.comAugust 24, 2013 

Joe Tarica

For a town that’s progressive and forward thinking in many ways, San Luis Obispo is looking like a close-minded backwater on the topic of vacation rentals, to the point where we have city code enforcers running around citing homeowners who dare to offer a room to a weary traveler for the weekend.

But first, some background: For upwards of 30 years, the city has had a hard ban against residents renting out their homes, or portions thereof, on a short-term basis.

The argument goes that the city doesn’t allow such pseudo-commercial operations because they can disrupt residential neighborhoods and result in homes exceeding their capacities.

In addition, those in the hotel industry aren’t thrilled with the idea of common citizens providing space because, they say, such activities unfairly compete with their businesses and offer lodging without collecting bed taxes.

Back in the 1980s, this kind of logic probably sort of made sense, even though the city had to twist it a bit in the process to allow a slew of exceptions.

Such as Greek organizations. Those are OK. I’m sure they got grandfathered in. But would you want to live next to one?

And convents and monasteries. Those are fine. They’re all just quietly praying, anyhow. 

And bed-and-breakfasts. No worries. Because … why? I’m sure they were cleared because they generate revenue for the city, and money is always good.

So things were fine and dandy for a few years, but then some major changes occurred.

First, this thing called the Internet came along, and technology made it much easier to connect people who had space to share with those looking for affordable lodging.

Then, the housing market went through the roof, the economy tanked and — to some homeowners in a high-cost place such as SLO — the possibility of making a few bucks off a spare room suddenly became very alluring.

So they began exploring sites such as Airbnb.com, VRBO.com and Homeaway.com, which provide travelers all over the world with homey, affordable places to stay as well as the opportunity to experience locations in a manner more genuine than resting your head on the pillow at the local Sleep for Cheap.

This is a good thing, and if you haven’t tried it, you should. 

We’ve used Homeaway.com twice to find accommodations in Hawaii. One was a rental house, and the other was a condo in an upscale complex.

Both were excellent options for a larger group of people that offered us more room than a hotel ever would.

Simply changing the ordinance to allow this kind of lodging would be one step San Luis Obispo could take. 

Or it could go even further and do something common in Canada, which is to formalize the process and allow for “approved accommodations.” 

We discovered this lodging option on a trip to Jasper, Alberta, several years ago.

Tired of camping and unwilling to pay the high hotel prices in a tourist town, we noticed signs posted on various homes offering overnight lodging.

There, members of the Jasper Home Accommodation Association offer inspected and licensed rooms in their private residences. The participating listings are also posted online with accommodation and contact information for advance reservations.

If you are the wing-it type as we are and don’t know where you might be on any given night, you can simply drive through town and see which vacancies are available at the time. Finding a room is no more difficult than walking up and knocking on the door.

We stayed at the home of a nice couple whose spacious and nicely decorated basement included a private bath and entrance. They also were happy to chat and share sightseeing tips.

Allowing this kind of accommodation in a friendly town such as SLO simply makes good sense in that thinking globally, acting locally kind of way.

If we need to collect some taxes and create a few regulations to do it, so be it.

The arguments of decades past and the fears of a little competition no longer suffice.

Joe Tarica is the presentation editor for The Tribune. Reach him at jtarica@thetribunenews.com or on Twitter @joetarica.

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