The Short-Term Rental Debate Returns in San Diego

The debate over short-term rentals in San Diego had been quiet for a number of months but a recent series of op-eds at Voice of San Diego seems to signal the return of the debate to the public stage.  The op-eds have been both against short-term rentals, for short-term rentals, and some general articles about the number of short-term rentals.

What this debate is about is what rules should apply to the rental of a portion of a property or a whole property for a period of less than 30 days.  Changes to the hotel taxes on short-term rentals are not being debated.  Monthly rentals are not being debated either.

Much of the debate on short-term rentals has come to be synonymous with the largest platform for short-term rentals today – San Francisco tech wundercompany Airbnb.  The debate is more about the proper place for Airbnb and less about the wide variety of short-term rentals that exist outside of this relatively young company (founded in 2008).

Some examples of short-term rentals that may not be directly discussed or considered as part of the short-term rental debate but will likely be impacted by any rules, fees, or regulations include the following (and many more):

  • Foreign exchange students – Hosting a student for less than 30 days is common and a great cultural experience for many. This type of use has a long history in San Diego.
  • Evergreen Club – A website ($75 annual membership fee) for those 50 and older to stay with other members for $20 per night.
  • HomeExchange – A site connecting people from all over the world that would like to “swap” houses for a period of time.  Per website, HomeExchange currently has more than 65,000 listings in 150 countries.  Many swaps do not include exchange of money.
  • Couchsurfing – A site to connect with others and share space in your home.  Website states 400,000 hosts per year and 4 million users.  Website name comes from sharing a spare couch, but includes more than couches, Couchsurfing invites hosts to share a – “couch, spare room or air mattress available to travelers”.
A screenshot from Couchsurfing San Diego taken 6-4-2016 shows the number of hosts, guests, and properties.
A screenshot from Couchsurfing San Diego taken 6-4-2016 shows the number of hosts, guests (“surfers”), and local events.
  • VRBO – Vacation Rental by Owner – An early entrant into the online world of vacation rentals.  Founded in 1995 and sold to Homeaway in 2006 (which was subsequently purchased by Expedia in 2015).  This site continues to thrive in traditional vacation locations.
  • onefinestay – A short-term rental site focuses on luxury / upmarket offerings.
  • Warm Showers – “A free worldwide hospitality exchange for touring cyclists” – similar to couchsurfing but for travellers exploring by bicycle.
  • Informal – Whether by personal connections, Craigslist, or other means there are short-term stays arranged directly by property owners and visitors to provide lodging for visitors, friends of friends, or strangers.

There are many, many other sites and services that offer short-term rentals (and the above also offer non short-term rentals – stays longer than 30 days).  As the debate over short-term rentals continues it shouldn’t be lost that we aren’t talking about just one website or one multi-billion dollar company.  The rules we put in place will affect a wide variety of uses that San Diegans have for their property.

Also worth noting is that many of the above noted sites and platforms are relatively young and new offerings and ideas are being created as the market for short-term rentals changes and grows.  When I started traveling and hosting via Airbnb a few years ago my parents thought it was quite odd, likely unsafe, and a generally weird idea.  Today they have used the site a number of times and it has become a mainstream tool that people from all over the world use.  I expect this trend to continue and hope that San Diego will embrace new tools that benefit both local residents and visitors in ways financial, social, and cultural.  Increased flexibility and opportunity is a good thing.

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John P Anderson

I'm a Kansas native living in San Diego. I enjoy learning about environmental issues and connecting with good people that want to make the world a better place. Cheers!