Short-term rentals and the city of Santa Barbara have a love-hate relationship. Lately, the city has been looking at cracking down on those that are operating “illegally.”

There are many sides to this story, and I can understand and am aware of the arguments from those on both sides. There are those who want short-term rentals to stay, and those who don’t want them at all, or want them only in particular areas.

I think a clear, common sense city ordinance with some easy-to-follow rules, locations, perhaps a particular number of short-term rentals available to be permitted, and a straightforward way for those to apply for them, makes a lot of sense.

We are missing this now with a lot of confusion around them. This column explores some of the pros of short-term rentals — those properties rented for less than 30 days.

To state the obvious first but sometimes overlooked point in this conversation, Santa Barbara is a tourist town and a highly sought-after vacation destination known for its beautiful beaches, scenic coastline, and mild climate.

In recent years, short-term Airbnb rentals have become increasingly popular around the world and in Santa Barbara. Just like many cities throughout the world, there is currently a mix of hotels, motels, bed-and-breakfasts, and short-term rentals that co-exist to allow visitors to choose how they would like to stay while visiting this amazing area.  

Short-term or  “Airbnb” rentals, as they are referred to sometimes, offer visitors more affordable and often larger accommodation options compared to traditional hotels.

Santa Barbara is known for its luxury hotels and resorts, which can be quite expensive, especially during peak tourist season, and are incredible experiences.

On the other hand, Airbnb rentals provide a range of options to fit different budgets. Visitors can find everything from cozy apartments to spacious beachfront homes, depending on their needs and preferences.

Also, Airbnb rentals often offer more amenities than traditional hotels, such as full kitchens, laundry facilities, and outdoor spaces, especially when traveling with larger groups, saving visitors money on dining and entertainment. A hotel just does not provide this option.

Short-term rentals can help support the local economy in Santa Barbara. Many Airbnb hosts are local residents who rely on income from short-term rentals to supplement their earnings. By choosing to stay in an Airbnb rental, visitors are directly supporting these local hosts and contributing to the local economy.

Short-term rental owners should be paying the 12% TOT (Transient Occupancy Tax) to the city. This would be gladly paid for with clear ordinances by those wanting to run a short-term rental. Now, many of the “illegal” short-term rentals do not pay because they do not want to be known by the city.

This additional income with clear guidelines would greatly help our city address bigger issues of homelessness, our downtown corridor, roads and drainage, or other issues facing the city. Plus, visitors who stay in Airbnb rentals are more likely to spend money at local restaurants, shops, and attractions, further boosting the local economy.

Lastly, short-term rentals in the city of Santa Barbara offer our very own locals a place go in times of crisis or evacuations, which have been more prevalent in recent years.

As a Realtor with clients who live in evacuated areas, often over the past few years I helped them find homes to stay in (when hotels were booked solid) by placing them in short-term rentals.

I was also proud to help secure housing for 12 out-of-the-area police officers through a client who has a house they rent short-term. The officers were in town to assist our local police during one of the heavy rain events a couple of months ago.

The officer who had reached out to me for an accommodation said they had nowhere else to stay and would be sleeping on the floor at the police station. Instead, each stayed in a bed for three days — and the owner did not charge them anything.

Short-term Airbnb rentals offer numerous benefits to locals, visitors, and to the city of Santa Barbara, including affordability, size, authenticity, local support, flexibility, convenience, and community connection.

Whether traveling to Santa Barbara for a weekend getaway or an extended stay, Airbnb rentals provide a unique and personalized way to experience all the city has to offer.

I hope the city does not just eliminate and crack down on short-term rentals in the city, but instead, adopts a common-sense, smart city ordinance to make these an option in Santa Barbara.

Todd Shea is the 2023 president of the Santa Barbara Association of Realtors (SBAOR). He is a California licensed real estate agent with the Zia Group powered by eXp Realty here in Santa Barbara. He has served on and chaired several committees within the SBAOR and served on its board of directors. Todd can be reached at 805.453.7730 and or message and follow @toddshearealtor on Instagram.