RSF Association considers prohibiting vacation rentals

The Rancho Santa Fe Association is joining homeowners associations and cities across the state in considering prohibiting vacation rentals in residential neighborhoods. At its Nov. 2 meeting, the board approved posting the proposed new rental regulations for a 30-day public comment period. The board will then consider adopting the rules at its Dec. 7 meeting.

RSF Association Manager Bob Hall said the rule seeks to address “transient types” of rental uses, growing in popularity for travelers as well as homeowners looking to make extra money.

“Homeowners are realizing that it can be much more profitable to rent their home for thousands of dollars a night using a site like Airbnb or HomeAway versus a regular rental arrangement,” Hall said.

Hall said he is aware of at least one property in the Covenant that is used for weddings and events on a regular basis, which is prohibited without a county use permit. For that situation, there is a regulation and they are working with the county to enforce it. The Covenant regulations are also very specific that owners are not allowed to rent out guest homes and Hall said they are working diligently to enforce the rules for those in violation, however, the Covenant is silent on renting out an entire residence or room.

A recent search finds more than a handful of available short-term rentals in Rancho Santa Fe on sites like Airbnb and HomeAway, ranging from a bedroom to guesthouses and casitas to entire estates, ranging from $200 to $3,000 a night. One estate boasts it can sleep 50.

Hall said they have identified 33 homes in the Covenant that they are aware of as operating as vacation rentals and they have received complaints about three.

RSF Association Director Allen Finkelson said based on the complaints he has heard from residents, he consulted with Association counsel about crafting regulations that limit short-term rentals to preserve the character, quality and stability of residential neighborhoods.

The proposed rule does four things: It prohibits vacation rentals as defined by anything less than 30 consecutive days; it prohibits advertisement of short-term rentals; it requires that a lease be for an entire dwelling and not merely for a portion of a dwelling or guest house; and members who rent dwellings subject to the regulation must notify the Association manager in writing with the names of all occupants, the make, model and license number of all occupants’ vehicles, the telephone number and the e-mail for the tenants, the number and type of pets kept by the occupants and a complete copy of the lease and “any other information reasonably needed by the manager.”

“Isn’t this a little bit much?” Director Ken Markstein asked. “Are we going to ask for the pets’ names too?”

Finkelson said the intent of the Association having all of that information is for safety purposes.

Director Mike Gallagher also voiced some doubts about requiring that much information as he is pretty sure the Association doesn’t know the makes and models of his own cars.

“The more restrictive we become, the less attractive we become and I’m a little afraid of the slippery slope situation,” Gallagher said. “I fear being overly stringent. How serious is this problem from a standpoint of really impacting people now? If it is a serious problem then we need to address it.”

Per the proposed rule, violations of the regulation will result in fines which may be levied separately for each violation. For example, advertising a dwelling as a vacation rental is a separate violation from actually renting the dwelling for such use. The regulation will not apply to any lease in existence on the date of adoption of the regulation or to any renewal.

While Markstein and Gallagher had some questions about the regulations, they were in favor of moving the process forward to gain public input. The board approved posting the rule in a 5-2 vote, with directors Rick Sapp and Janet Danola voting against it.

Both Sapp and Danola said they would’ve liked to table the rules until the next meeting in order to have an executive study session to understand the legal environment, the basis within the Covenant and their ability to create such regulations.

“I feel the need to have due care and due deliberation on material items such as property rights. We shouldn’t rush it because it’s not a clear and present danger in the community,” Sapp said.

Danola and Sapp said they didn’t know what the harm would be in spending another month to do additional research and incorporate board comments in an effort to present the best document that they could for public review. Finkelson said the issue is time — if the board is interested in moving forward, he wants to be able to get an enforceable regulation “with teeth” in place as soon as possible.

One resident in the audience said that the vacation rentals are a “big problem” in his neighborhood and he has been personally affected but he chose not to share his experiences publicly. Hall said the complaints that the Association and the Rancho Santa Fe Patrol have received have mostly centered on noise and parking issues.

RSF Association President Fred Wasserman said he’s spoken with realtors who said they are seeing a trend of people purchasing homes with the sole intention of using them as short-term rentals.

“There’s a perception that if this becomes a short-term rental community, it will affect property values,” Wasserman said. “The board is obligated to look at this, we need to protect our community.”

In his hesitance to move forward, Sapp said he has been watching the situation in Del Mar — Del Mar City Council is targeting May 2018 as the beginning of its new policy, which will limit full-home rentals, single-room rentals and home “swaps” to seven-day minimums that cannot exceed 28 days per calendar year. Rental supporters have filed suit against the city.

The issue has also been hotly contested in the City of San Diego, particularly in the coastal cities. City Council is set to consider several proposals for short-term rental regulations at a Dec. 12 hearing.

“When you interfere with property rights in general I get uncomfortable,” Sapp said, noting he would rather see the Association regulate it by using some kind of permitting for rentals less than 30 days.

Sapp said he is also concerned that the Association would face lawsuits and that the Covenant contract would not prevail in court. Finkelson acknowledged that “the chances for litigation are great” but he said counsel has advised that the homeowners association has more powers than the city by the nature of the contract and they believe that rules would be enforceable.

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