Short-term vacation rentals OK'd by SLO City Council

A group of San Luis Obispo property owners prevailed Tuesday night in their fight for permission to rent rooms in their homes on a short-term basis to travelers.

The City Council voted 3-1 to create a new ordinance that will allow home-stays, or rentals of 30 days or less in owner-occupied homes. Councilman Dan Carpenter dissented, saying he did not want to discriminate against people who want to do the same but do not live in their homes.

The council also voted to not enforce the ban on vacation rentals until the new ordinance is written and adopted.

“If we ban this practice I think we are shooting ourselves in the foot from a tourism perspective,” said Councilwoman Kathy Smith.

Vacation rentals that are not the homeowner’s main residence remain illegal.

The new ordinance will include a number of parameters such as requiring homeowners in single family residential neighborhoods to notify adjacent neighbors of their rental activity. Homeowners in other, higher-density neighborhoods will not be required to do so.

People who choose to offer home stays through popular websites such as Airbnb and VRBO.com will also be required to pay transient occupancy tax and possibly get a use permit from the city.

The city staff had proposed requiring the homeowners who asked for the new ordinance to pay an $11,795 administrative cost for making changes to the zoning text. The council decided the city would absorb the cost.

Mayor Jan Marx, who was absent from the meeting, had asked that the council wait until she returned to make a decision on whether to change the rental regulation. However, the council unanimously agreed to forge ahead without her.

People in support of allowing home stays packed the council chambers Tuesday, with more than 15 people speaking in support of making them legal.

“If we are not good neighbors, we would not be able to continue as hosts,” said John Semon, who spoke on behalf of SLO Hosts, a group of homeowners who organized to fight the city’s enforcement against vacation rentals.

Homeowners renting rooms in their homes to travelers began receiving enforcement letters from the city in March. The citations, which told them to stop or face fines that can escalate up to $500 per violation, infuriated many residents who have been quietly renting out rooms to vacationers for years.

City staff said the enforcement was triggered by a handful of complaints. Joseph Lease, chief building official, said nine complaints have been filed with the city.

A handful of opponents also spoke Tuesday, raising concerns about privacy, decreased safety in neighborhoods and businesses operating in residential areas.

“This is a taking,” said Bob Shanbrom, one of the most vocal opponents against allowing home stays. “We bought homes in residential neighborhoods, not commercial areas.”

It is unclear how the short-term home stays will be regulated by the city. The new ordinance will come back to the City Council sometime next year for final approval.