Flood of complaints leads Encinitas to revise proposed short-term rental rules

The downtown Encinitas sign.
(Charlie Neuman / San Diego Union-Tribune/Zuma Pre)

City is tightening regulations to reduce noise, trash and traffic complaints at vacation rentals in the city


Owners of hundreds of vacation rental properties in Encinitas will face new regulations under a proposal given initial City Council approval Wednesday night, Oct. 27, but the rules won’t be as strict as originally proposed.

After hours of public testimony from 40 people — nearly all of them vacation rental owners who strongly opposed portions of the proposed regulatory changes — the council agreed to rework several sections. Among the key changes was the elimination of a five-night, minimum stay requirement for vacation rentals where the owner of the unit lives on the same property.

The council voted 4-0, with Councilwoman Kellie Shay Hinze absent due to a conflict of interest, to move forward with other elements of the new regulations. City staff now will rewrite the proposal to include the new changes and then reintroduce the modified version at another public hearing on a later date.

“We appreciate all your feedback. It makes a difference, as you can tell,” Mayor Catherine Blakespear told the audience after the council’s vote.

Encinitas records indicate that the city has 394 registered short-term rentals, or places that rent for less than 30 days at a time, typically to vacationing travelers. There’s also an estimated 159 vacation rentals that currently have not yet registered with the city, as required.

Encinitas established its current regulations regarding short-term rental properties in 2006 and hired a private company to begin monitoring the businesses for tax collection compliance in 2018.

Responding to the latest round of noise, trash and traffic complaints from neighbors of some vacation rentals, the City Council established a subcommittee early this year and it began looking into ways to update the city’s regulations. The proposed ordinance revisions are the result of that process.

Revisions backed by the council Wednesday night, Oct. 27, include:

  • Requiring that neighboring property owners within 300 feet of the rental unit be provided with a telephone number for the operators of the unit, and this phone number must be answered day or night
  • Shortening the time period by which an owner must take “corrective action” about loud noise or unruly tenant behavior complaints from two hours to within one hour, and requiring that the owner document what was done to resolve the problem
  • Strengthening the city’s collection rules related to the Transient Occupancy Tax, commonly known as the hotel bed tax
  • Prohibiting special events at short-term rental properties, including weddings, corporate events and commercial functions
  • Barring people from advertising short-term rentals unless they have a city permit allowing them to rent the property. In their advertisements, the unit owners also must include their city permit number, the unit’s maximum occupancy and vehicle parking limits

During the Oct. 27 public hearing, short-term rental owners said many of the proposed regulations could have a huge adverse impact on them, especially the five-night stay requirement and a greet-renters-in-person requirement. Many said the five-night stay rule would drastically reduce the number of bookings they get for their units, while the requirement to exchange keys to the units in person was ridiculous given that their units typically have doorbell camera systems and keyless, number-coded entry systems that are reprogramed each time they’re rented.

“By all means, punish the bad players ... but do not punish the good ones,” short-term rental unit owner Susan Turney said, as she told the council to focus on police enforcement on what she termed “bad actors” rather than making life more difficult for the hundreds of vacation rental owners who never get complaints about their units.

Turney said the in-person greeting requirement was particularly absurd for people like her who live on the same property as their rental unit. Having a lock box entry system allows her guests to arrive at a time that’s good for them, while giving her some flexibility in her schedule, she said.

Council members ultimately decided to eliminate both the proposed minimum night stay and the in-person key exchange requirement for owner-occupied properties. For properties where the owner doesn’t live on the site, the meet-and-greet interaction will be required, but the proposed five-night minimum stay will be changed to a three-night stay, the council decided.

The council also asked city employees to look into establishing a citywide cap on the number of vacation rentals — something slightly higher than the number that current exists — and explore ways to prevent “over-concentration” where many of the homes in a given neighborhood all become vacation rentals.