Tuesday, April 24 , 2018, 10:30 pm | Overcast 54º


Letter to the Editor: The Misunderstood Short Term Rental

[Noozhawk’s note: Elizabeth Kehoe is a newly retired resident of Santa Barbara. She and her husband purchased their home in an R-4 zone for its income-earning potential to help support them in retirement. They have built their home and apartment to city code and have paid all TOT taxes.]

There are certainly many misunderstandings regarding short-term rentals in Santa Barbara! I believe Santa Barbara should allow short-term rentals as a part of a balanced visitor accommodation policy.

That policy should include reasonable controls and regulations by the city. This is a tax-paying activity that is highly profitable to the city (more than $1.2 million in annual revenue currently), and provides visitors lodging options beyond the normal “hotel” experience.

As an owner of a short-term rental unit, we have welcomed more than 100 visitors to Santa Barbara in the last 18 months. Through that experience, I can address some of the concerns some may have about the typical Santa Barbara tourist.

First, I should say that I have been legally operating my vacation rental in an R-4 zone (hotels all around). I have a business license and have been paying TOT taxes equal to 12 percent of my rental revenues. I live in my house, but rent out a small apartment in the back of my property.

Although some feel these apartments should be made available for long-term rentals, I see a downside to doing so. My apartment is generally considered too small to be a long-term rental, and I wouldn’t rent it that way anyway, as I need it for when my children and friends come to visit during the year.

Nearly one third of our short-term renters come without cars, preferring instead to use the bikes we provide, walk to town or use taxi or Uber services. Those who come by car only bring one car.

If I were to have a long-term renter in my tiny apartment, they would surely have a car to get to and from work, which would add to the load on the highways, and take up additional parking on the street.

Statistics substantiate that long-term renters generate more nuisance and noise complaints than short-term renters do in Santa Barbara. Of course, there are instances where absentee landlords rent to large groups with little regard to their neighbors.

But those instances are few and far between. When you consider there are more than 800 short-term rentals operating in Santa Barbara, with an average of only six complaints per year, you can see that it truly comes down to management and regulation. The number of complaints registered against long- term renters is much higher per capita.

It is an unfortunate fact, but laws are often on the side of long-term renters, such that enforcement of neighbor complaints becomes problematic for the landlord. Noise issues, late parties and general yard neatness complaints are quite difficult to manage when long-term renters are involved.

Short-term rental properties require constant management by their nature. The landlord (or management company) must look in on them at each turnover in order to clean and tidy them up.

There is no similar oversight with long-term rentals. In fact, as a landlord, I would have to gain written permission to access the property that I have rented to a long-term renter. I don’t have control over what condition they leave the exterior of the property in or the nature and length of their late-night parties. I submit that the “party house” syndrome is more likely to occur with long-term rentals (especially those rented to college kids) than to the typical short-term rental visitor.

My short-term renters are visiting vacationers and are too busy spending their money at restaurants, film festivals or in the Funk Zone to stay home and play loud music or party late and cause a disturbance. In our case they have consistently left our property in excellent shape with no disorder or problems.

Most people are unaware of the short-term renters in their midst. It’s the management — not the length of stay — that determines what kind of rental outcome happens. With enforceable regulation, visitors can still come and enjoy Santa Barbara and the city can still benefit from collecting the TOT tax. Controls can be implemented that can enhance neighborhoods, and everybody can win.

My neighbors prefer we keep operating as a short-term rental rather than switch to the long-term option. The long-term rental will almost assuredly add another car to the parking congestion, and we would lose the ability to control unruly long-term renters.

My neighbors understand that I have more control over my short-term renters than I would have over a long-term one. I can remove a short-term renter from the property at a moment’s notice, if I needed to. Add to this the strength of good, enforceable short-term regulations that could be put in place by Santa Barbara, and you would have a winning formula that everybody could get behind.

Elizabeth Kehoe
Santa Barbara

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