Want To Be An Airbnb Host in San Diego? Good Luck – You’re On Your Own

The City of San Diego continues to discuss options for regulations and rules around short-term rentals on sites like Airbnb.  Short-term rentals are rentals for less than a full calendar month and have been the topic of discussion at a number of City Council and committee hearings over the last few years.

I recently received an inquiry from a San Diego resident that would like to rent out one or two bedrooms in the home they live in – sharing a room or home with guests is often referred to as “home-sharing”.  Home-sharing is frequently brought up in the short-term rental debate with both sides typically saying there is no issue with this type of activity.  (However, home-sharing is the only type of short-term rental I’m aware of that the City of San Diego took to court, and ultimately the judge decided that this type of activity is not allowed under current rules and issued a fine to that host.)

The prospective host in this case was looking to do the right thing and get clarity from the City before hosting on Airbnb.  They contacted several City departments regarding how to fill out the right information for the Transient Occupancy Registration Certificate( “TORC”), if a Business Tax Certificate is required, what taxes they need to pay, and if there are other regulations they need to follow for lawfully renting out rooms via platforms such as Airbnb. 


On the response to the prospective host, the city was clear and straight-forward in providing the process to register for the TORC, what kind of taxes the host would need to pay, etc.  The Transient Occupancy Tax (i.e. hotel tax) is not part of the debate and proposed short-term rental rules – it is already in place and collected (and in the case of Airbnb remitted for all hosts on the platform each month by the platform itself).

However, in regard to other requirements for operating an Airbnb, the prospective host was directed to consult the Development Services Department (in charge of Land Use and Development). Surprisingly, when the host reached out to Development Services they were told  that since there are no official regulations or rules around short-term rentals, this kind of activity is currently not allowed in San Diego.  That’s when the host reached out to me, as part of my efforts with the Short-Term Rental Alliance of San Diego (STRASD) – seeking clarity the city couldn’t provide and how they should proceed.

The contradiction between the responses from different City departments is confusing but accurate.  Yes – you can register and pay the taxes for this sort of activity.  No – you can not engage in this type of activity in the first place.  This is the current status of short-term rentals in San Diego, at least for home-sharing situations.  It still seems that whole-home short-term rentals may be on firmer ground, although the current City Attorney has declared all short-term rentals illegal. [Note: the previous two City Attorneys held a different position, that short-term rentals were not illegal.]

This sort of lack of clarity is harmful to potential hosts like the one highlighted in this post – a San Diego resident seeking to improve their economic position and do so in a straight-forward and compliant manner in the type of short-term rental that is roundly approved of and supported.  We need clarity to support residents like this and should encourage this type of widespread entrepreneurial opportunity to give citizens more options and ability to chart their own desired course.  Hopefully in the months ahead we will see clarity that gives certainty to current and potential hosts and guests and that supports the opportunity that platforms like Airbnb and others gives to many thousands of San Diegans.

A screen shot of some home-sharing options currently available on Airbnb (taken 4-19-2018)

Creating a Passive Income Symbiote

dollar bills

One of my favorite websites is the fantastic Mr. Money Moustache (MMM).  This website and the book Early Retirement Extreme (ERE) by Jacob Lund Fisker caught my attention a few years ago and the concept of financial independence has been stuck in my head ever since.  There are a number of great podcasts, books, and articles, on the topic and the “FIRE” movement (financial independence / early retirement) has grown into a semi-mainstream concept.

The biggest lesson I took from MMM and ERE is the impact that a person’s savings rate has on the ability to grow wealth.  The flip side to the savings rate is the consumption rate – together they equal 100% of earnings.  The money you earn is either spent and disbursed to another party via consumption – the pizza place, daycare, car payments, etc. – or it is kept and accrued in your accounts – savings, investment account, real estate, etc.

The impact of the consumption / savings rate is laid out most excellently in this post from MMM:

The Shockingly Simple Math Behind Early Retirement

I decided to take a stab at making a simple calculation along the same lines – using a few basic inputs to see the time required to create a “Passive Income Symbiote”.  The goal is to create a passive stream of income equivalent to gross earnings – to entirely replace wage earnings with passive income.  If you can live on what you currently earn then it’s easy to imagine living on that same amount, but with all of your time free to use as desired.  I chose the word symbiote with the idea that the goal is to have the Passive Income Symbiote be the “host” and the person becomes the “parasite”, living on the efforts of the host.

The basic elements for the calculation (spreadsheet attached, feel free to use and share if you like) are:

  • Income / earnings – how much you make
  • Consumption rate – how much of your earnings you spend
  • Return on investments – what you earn on your savings
  • Earnings increase – if you expect an annual raise, how much it is
  • Earnings increase spent – how much of any earnings increase you spend (also known as lifestyle inflation)

Many of these factors are hard to change or controlled by outside forces – bosses, annual evaluations, how the stock market performs – the spending / saving ratio is the factor easiest to quickly adjust.  It’s also the factor that has the most impact on the time required to fully fund a PI Symbiote.  I’ve included some suggested ranges for items like return on investments and annual earnings increase.  There’s a relative limit on some items and I’ve tried to based the suggested ranges on my perception of those general limits. (You might get a 100% raise at your job but it’s more likely to be a moderate increase of 3-5%, for example.)

Good luck on your journey and creating your own pet Symbiote. Cheers!

Screenshot of sample Symbiote calculation
a journey of a thousand miles starts with a shaky bridge

Download Excel Below: