A map shows the breakdown of short-term rental properties in the city of Carpinteria. (City of Carpinteria map)

Carpinteria officials are backing the status quo on short-term vacation rental regulation, but they could opt to limit the number in any given neighborhood.

The pressing issue came before Carpinteria City Council Monday night, with members tackling where residents should be allowed to rent housing units for fewer than 30 consecutive days — a practice made more popular in recent years by Airbnb and the like.

The council unanimously voted in favor of continuing to allow short-term vacation rentals in multi-family residential zones mostly near the beach or downtown, but officials also asked city staff to prepare a draft zoning ordinance looking at the number in each neighborhood and what a cap might look like.

Carpinteria officials estimated 271 short-term rentals currently exist, but the city code’s only official reference to the practice involves hotels and motels in certain commercial zones. 

Traditionally, the city has permitted short-term vacation rentals outside single-family residential zones if they pay for a business license and contribute transient-occupancy taxes, according to City Manager Dave Durflinger.

The council also asked staff to add language differentiating between vacation rentals and home sharing, which would be exempt from regulation. Home sharing involves renting part of a dwelling that’s a primary residence, with the host present during the stay.

The issue came before council ahead of an overall zoning update planned for this fall.

“This business has grown like crazy,” Durflinger said, adding that officials could help strike a balance between private and public use of residences.

He said residents have complained about short-term rentals over the years, with one incident involving a person who put down a deposit to rent a short-term unit that didn’t exist. One short-term rental also lost a lawsuit against the city in 2005 after neighbors complained it was illegally operating in a single-family zone.

Vacation rentals have been around in Carpinteria since its incorporation in 1965, most in the beach neighborhoods generating money for the economy.

This year, Durflinger estimated, vacation rentals would generate $575,000, or 25 percent, of the city’s $2.3 million in TOT revenue.

He noted the practice could negatively affect the affordability and availability of permanent workforce housing.

“There’s not a lot available,” one speaker said of housing.

She claimed her family was being evicted so the landlord could turn the unit into a short-term rental. 

A handful of public speakers were mostly against allowing any short-term vacation rentals in single-family residential neighborhoods, alleging they endanger the character with noise, trash and parking issues. 

Paradise Retreats president Theo Kracke explained the strict rules his 15 short-term vacation rentals in Carpinteria must follow, arguing that professional property management can enhance neighborhoods.

He said his Santa Barbara-based company rents out more than 100 units for property owners countywide.

Council members weren’t short on questions, asking whether cities could some day file a class-action lawsuit against companies like Airbnb, the consequences of banning rentals altogether (enforcement), and how to “tighten” rules already in place.

Although Councilman Al Clark initially said he favored a ban everywhere but beachside, he backed off while keeping an emphasis on housing residents first.

“I don’t want to see apartment buildings being taken over,” Clark said. 

Mayor Gregg Carty said a quantitative approach could help alleviate housing and other issues.

“There’s no doubt the need for vacation rentals is there,” he said. “It’s a big business, there’s a lot of money to be made, there’s a lot of gray areas associated with it. Those gray areas need to be figured out. We’ll figure it out.”

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at gpotthoff@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.