SLO’s vacation rental rule has outstayed its welcome

City should allow new options, or it risks losing visitor revenue

letters@thetribunenews.comAugust 31, 2013 

Sky Bergman in the room she rents out in her San Luis Obispo home.

LAURA DICKINSON — ldickinson@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

The city of San Luis Obispo has reason to be leery of vacation rentals, but a recent crackdown on homeowners who’ve been occasionally renting out spare bedrooms or granny units goes too far.

We strongly urge the City Council to revamp its rules to allow home-stay operations, provided the homeowners start collecting bed tax and comply will all business licensing requirements.

For the record, there is a huge difference between vacation rentals owned by absentee landlords and the type of home-stay operations advertised on lodging websites such as Airbnb.

With vacation rentals — which are especially popular in beach towns such as Pismo Beach and Cambria — we’ve heard horror stories of rowdy guests shattering the peace and quiet of residential neighborhoods. That led some local communities to strictly regulate vacation rentals.

San Luis Obispo dealt with the issue by deciding to ban them entirely, but because the ban prohibits renting out even a portion of a home to vacationers, that’s created a big problem for home-stay hosts. Many of them were recently served cease-and-desist orders and face fines of as much as $500 per day if they continue to rent rooms.

In response, several hosts have joined together and are drafting a proposal for the city to consider.

The city should listen.

Far from being a drain on the city’s resources, home-stay guests are good for the county’s economy. They eat out at local restaurants, visit wineries, shop, go to the movies.

Home-stay hosts benefit economically as well; homeowners who list on Airbnb earn, on average, $638 per month. Some put those earnings toward their housing payments. If they lose that income, some may have to take in full-time renters. That, ironically, would likely have more impact on residential neighborhoods than occasional houseguests.

It shouldn’t have to come to that.

Far from being lawbreakers, the home-stay hosts we’ve contacted are enterprising, law-abiding citizens who pay income taxes on their earnings and are anxious to legitimize their businesses in the eyes of the city.

They don’t collect bed tax, but host Karen Hale told us that nearly every host she’s spoken to is willing to do so, as long as there’s a mechanism in place.

We urge the city to find a way to make that happen.

Cities that depend on tourism must recognize that guests have varying tastes and budgets in all things — including accommodations — and plan accordingly.

Home stays aren’t for everyone; many visitors are always going to prefer the privacy, convenience and amenities that hotels offer.

But a growing segment of tourists, including many international visitors, relish the opportunity of getting to know an area by staying with a local family.

If San Luis Obispo is going to close the door to them, they — and their tax dollars — will go to other communities that are more welcoming.

Editorials are the opinion of The Tribune.

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