San Diego, CA: The local war on websites like Airbnb hits close to home

Airbnb causes cancer!

Well, not really, but the vilification of short-term rental companies, such as Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway, has become so heated that a comment like that doesn’t seem unimaginable. That’s not to say I don’t believe all the stories: the orgy in Manhattan, the rape in Barcelona, the vomit on someone’s front lawn in Pacific Beach, small children hearing foul language in Pacific Beach, broken glass in the street in Pacific Beach. Wait, wasn’t PB like that before Airbnb?

Happy stories about home-sharing? Those are just boring. Vomit has so much more going for it.

In August, Airbnb paid the city of San Diego more than $1 million in Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) revenue, the same tax hotels pay the city for each guest. If the city continues to receive this kind of monthly benefit, we might be able to afford that stadium one day.

On Tuesday, Sept. 22, the Community Planners Committee, which represents the city’s network of planning groups, heard from both sides of this home-sharing controversy. There are the citizens who say short-term renters are vomiting in their front yards (Save San Diego Neighborhoods) and those who happily host guests (Short Term Rental Alliance of San Diego). One side of the debate wants to limit stays to a proposed seven days for owner-occupied rentals and 21 days for places that are not owner-occupied. The other side is trying to keep any city-imposed restrictions as loose as possible. The city is working on a draft ordinance that is expected to go before the Planning Commission in late October before heading to the City Council.

The politicians will ultimately have to decide how to please the folks who say short-term renters ruin their community and appease the folks who say home-sharing boosts their disposable income and, in some cases, saves them from foreclosure.

But bad news is always so much more interesting than good news. Never mind the new friendships made, the increased revenue for local businesses, or some of us being able to pay our mortgages.

I have a recent Airbnb experience that’s a nighttime horror story and might prove instructive for some.

10 p.m. Music and laughter next door is so loud I can hear it through my closed windows and over the rumble of my air conditioner. It’s not that late. Let them have some fun.

11 p.m. I hear the hot tub water splashing. Laughter turns into loud voices talking over the even louder music. This seems like a reasonable hour for the party to start winding down.

The music gets louder. I toss and turn in my bed. Voices tumble over our shared fence and in through my A/C.

I could put in earplugs, but I don’t. Why? I’m worried the noisy neighbors are bothering my Airbnb guest. I could get a bad review! In a back room that I rent out through Airbnb, a gentleman sleeps. He has come to town for a woodworking conference. We have a lot of conferences in San Diego. Some people can’t afford to stay in a flashy downtown Gaslamp hotel. Others would rather stay in a quiet part of San Diego, for instance, my quiet private room in South Park. At least, it would be quiet if my neighbor’s long-term tenants weren’t partying.

2 a.m. I get up and walk through the neighbor’s front door. The tenants left it open. I head to the hot tub (this isn’t the first party I’ve had to disrupt) and say, “We’ve reached the hour that is reasonable to ask that you keep it quiet.” Blank stares. I’m in my pajamas and flip-flops with a noticeably grouchy demeanor. They’re in their bathing suits (thank God), drunk and youthfully exuberant. As I leave, I spot another neighbor, who lives up the street, in the middle of the hottubbers’ lawn. Being the middle-aged grouch that I’m prone to be at 2 a.m., I tell him, “If you don’t turn the music down I will next call your landlord.” (His landlord is a friend of mine.)

Let’s just say the rest of the night was so peaceful that I got a five-star review from my Airbnb guest, who said he would be back.

Of course, he’ll only be back if there is still Airbnb available in San Diego. If the short-term rental opponents get their way, my Airbnb woodworkers might have to stay in that downtown hotel. He’ll probably experience San Diego as most visitors do, hanging out at SeaWorld or Seaport Village.

Opponents claim short-term rentals shouldn’t exist in single-family zoned areas. But how many of these neighborhoods are zoned single-family? My parcel, for example, is a multi-family lot. In addition to the private room I rent out, I also have a cottage on my property. I rent this to long-term renters. If they regularly got rowdy, like my neighbor’s tenants, I would have a much harder time getting rid of them based on the laws for tenants who stay more than 30 days. If my Airbnb tenants get rowdy, they will be gone in a day or two.

Bad behavior isn’t unique to Airbnb guests. We all need to be responsible for asking our neighbors to quiet down and keep their tenants in line. Our city thrives on visitors. Airbnb and its competitors have become easy targets to blame for problems that have always existed. I could call the cops on my hot tub neighbors. Or we could build relationships with our neighbors and small business owners. Naw, that would be too much friendliness.

Most of my Airbnb visitors only want to stay two to three nights, so the seven-night minimum would make most of the owner-occupied rentals, well, unrentable. In the words of an Airbnb spokesperson, “Home sharing allows people to turn what is typically one of their greatest expenses into a tool to help make ends meet. Airbnb is focused on making neighborhoods better places to live and visit—and part of that includes working with lawmakers to reach solutions that allow us to pay our fair share while enabling people to share their homes.”

Sharing. Now, that’s what neighbors should do. Too bad it’s not newsworthy.