The City of Goleta will develop an ordinance to better regulate area vacation rental properties, forcing property owners to register to a database and pay a fee to obtain a permit.

How much renters would pay depends on how many short-term rental properties Goleta has — information city officials hope to discern by trying to normalize them.

The Goleta City Council voted 4-1 on Tuesday night to pursue an ordinance creating a registration program that would require vacation rental property owners to apply for and obtain a regulatory license before they rent to anyone for fewer than 30 days.

That information would go into a database, where city officials could track whether property owners are charging tenants a transient occupancy tax, since staff said most do not, and so officials have some teeth when dealing with absentee renters.

The ordinance also provides annoyed neighbors with a chance — and a process by which — to object to a permit before and after it’s been issued.

Billed as a way to simultaneously protect property owners from problem tenants, the proposed ordinance must come back to council before it’s enacted, along with a proposed fee that is supposed to recover most, but not necessarily all, staff costs to enforce the rule.

City Councilman Roger Aceves voted against the ordinance, calling it discriminatory and “the wrong solution for a problem that doesn’t exist.”

The city was re-examining its policy because of one particular short-term vacation rental that drew a host of complaints before staff eventually could work with the owner, who opted last year to only rent to long-term tenants, city attorney Tim Giles said.

Goleta hasn’t recorded any other complaints from rentals, he said, but an ordinance could help prevent another prolonged process of owners handling a bad tenant making noise, partying, littering or overcrowding streets of residential neighborhoods.

The 2010 census identified 117 vacation rentals in Goleta, and Councilman Michael Bennett, who serves on the ordinance committee, said that number is likely a lot higher due to the popularity of online reservation sites like Airbnb.

A quick Airbnb search of Goleta shows some 160 rooms or couches for rent.

Giles said Airbnb would fall under the ordinance, but, as written, house sitting and renting a room out while an owner lived in the home too would be exempt.

Swapping homes and renting a home out while gone were up for interpretation.

Short-term rentals in Goleta are supposed to be assessed through the Santa Barbara South Coast Tourism Business Improvement District, an effort run by Visit Santa Barbara to increase tourism and overnight stays in local hotels.

For the first time this year, vacation rentals will be assessed on a per unit basis of $2 per night instead of a per room rate, but they don’t get included in marketing materials.

Giles said the ordinance asks property owners to provide a “nuisance response plan” for complaints, proof of a business license and transient occupancy registration, a bond in the amount of $1,500 to assure compliance, a fee to cover the cost of the finance department administering the program and proof that all properties within 200 feet have been notified of the application.

Response plans would provide the name and contact information for the property owner and a person who could promptly respond to such complaints locally — all info the city expects to make available on its website to be available 24/7.

Giles said the ordinance sets a maximum number of occupants at two people plus two for each bedroom, and no more vehicles than the amount of off-street parking spaces on the property.

Property owners would pick up all trash, and anyone could request an administrative hearing with the city manager to challenge the permit.

If renters violate the rules, the city could suspend, modify or revoke the permit.

“Who’s going to police this?” Aceves said.

Giles explained the policy was reactive, so police officers would be responding to nuisance complaints and find out whether rentals were registered. If not, he said, city codes could allow officials to seek an administrative penalty citation for hundreds of dollars (set by state law) or file a misdemeanor criminal charge.

“We’re worried more about the owner that allowed the behavior than tenants,” Giles said.

Bennett supported the policy as proactive, saying the state could soon come up its own sweeping rules and that it was based on what other cities are doing.

A handful of public speakers worried the ordinance was too broad or that it would encourage more people to buy properties to rent.

Giles reiterated that the ordinance would be complaint-driven.

“There are some who don’t want to see (vacation rentals) and others who like them,” City Councilman Tony Vallejo said. “I think this is the middle ground.”

Mayor Paula Perotte agreed, calling the ordinance “a tool to help our neighbors.”

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.