(Dorian Hargrove) An administrative law judge ruled last week that homeowners wishing to rent out rooms or their home on mobile apps such as AirBnB need to obtain a conditional use permit before doing so or be at risk for hefty fines up to $250,000.
During the course of the past year, City of San Diego staffers and elected officials have scrambled to catch up with what has been a growing popularity of home-rental websites. In February 2015, new regulations were posted on the city’s website notifying AirBnB hosts that they are required to pay transient occupancy taxes and other taxes. There was also mention that some hosts may need to obtain city permits to rent out rooms on home-sharing apps, a long and tedious process, as reported by the Voice of San Diego. Before that, however, there was little information from the city on the requirements for home-sharing. Currently, several hundred homeowners rent rooms or their home on AirBnB as well as other similar websites. None, as of now, have obtained permits, leaving all at risk for hefty fines.
AirBnb host Rachel Smith, owner of a large historical house in the affluent Burlingame neighborhood near North Park, has been the most visible homeowner to suffer the fine.
On August 5, judge Catriona Miller sided with the City of San Diego and fined Smith nearly $25,000 for operating a bed-and-breakfast establishment without the necessary permits.
As reported by the Reader in May 2015, from 2013 to August 2014 Smith listed two rooms in her five-bedroom house on AirBnB; that came to an end, however, when Smith’s neighbors complained to councilmember Todd Gloria’s office about lack of parking and unwanted foot traffic in the neighborhood.
Gloria’s office responded by passing along the neighbor’s complaints to the city’s code-enforcement division. In July 2014 a code-enforcement officer notified Smith that she violated the municipal code by operating a bed-and-breakfast without proper permits. Smith argued that she was not running a business and did not offer food or any other amenities to guests other than a bed to sleep in.
Administrative law judge Miller disagreed. In her ruling, Miller stated that even though Smith did not offer breakfast to guests, she was essentially operating a bed-and-breakfast.