SLO homeowner's appeal of ban on short-term rentals is denied

Planning Commission upholds regulation banning short-term home rental

acornejo@thetribunenews.comOctober 9, 2013 

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

LAURA DICKINSON — ldickinson@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

Short-term vacation rentals got the thumbs-down again Wednesday.

The San Luis Obispo Planning Commission upheld a city staff decision preventing resident Sky Bergman from renting out a room in her Mill Street home as a short-term vacation rental.

Bergman is one of dozens of residents asking the city to revisit the city ordinance banning vacation rentals. Those residents want the city to make an allowance for short-term rentals of owner-occupied homes often done through popular travel websites like Airbnb.com.

Bergman was notified in May that she was violating the ordinance by renting out a room through the Airbnb website and was told to stop. She appealed that decision, which was denied by the community development director. Wednesday’s hearing before the planning commission was to hear Bergman’s appeal of that denial.

The city ordinance, drafted in the 1980s, bans vacation rentals anywhere in the city. A vacation rental is defined as a residence or part of a dwelling that is furnished and rented for fewer than 30 consecutive days. Popular websites such as Airbnb.com and VRBO.com allow homeowners to market their homes to short-term renters for a night or a weekend or as long as a month.

The city has issued notifications since May to 12 homeowners, telling them to stop listing their homes as short-term rentals or face fines that start at $100 but can escalate to $500 per violation.

Those notifications were triggered by a “relatively small” number of complaints from businesses and community members but not directly tied to those people receiving the citations, said Joseph Lease, chief building official.

The homeowners requesting the change to the city’s ordinance, now organized as a group called SLO Hosts, are mostly middle-aged, long-term residents who say they enjoy the social aspect of renting a room to travelers but also want the economic boost a rental provides.

Eight people spoke in Bergman’s defense Wednesday.

“These are new times and new things are happening,” said Jeff Eidelman, a 34-year resident. “It makes sense to change the definition of a vacation rental.”

The Planning Commission could only rule on merits of the appeal itself, not the ordinance. On Nov. 12 the City Council will discuss the context of the ordinance banning vacation rentals after hearing concerns from multiple homeowners wishing to offer short-term rentals.

Planning Commissioner William Riggs encouraged city staff to be open-minded when looking into the issue.

The majority of commissioners Wednesday said they voted to support the denial of Bergman’s appeal because the city law forbids vacation rentals all of types. Commissioner John Larson was the sole vote in Bergman’s favor but did not specify why he voted that way.

Bergman has 10 days to pay $273 to appeal the commission’s decision to the City Council.

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