The issue of short-term rentals (STRs) in the Coastal Zone could be back in front of County lawmakers as soon as next year, reports Darcel Elliott with First District Supervisor Das Williams’ office, who spoke at the Montecito Association Board of Directors meeting earlier this week.
STRs continue to be unregulated in the Coastal Zone, after the California Coastal Commission in 2018 rejected Santa Barbara County’s proposed ordinance language that would allow for STRs only in a small beach district of Montecito, an area that has a historic use of vacation rentals.
In 2017, the County Board of Supervisors adopted ordinances that prohibit STRs in inland residential zones, with the exception of “homestays.” A homestay is a short-term tenancy in which an owner or long-term tenant of six months or more is on the property at the same time as the short-term tenants. Homestays require a permit, and are subject to several regulations. The homestay cannot exceed three bedrooms; a person can only apply for one homestay license; homestays must have nuisance response plans; and there are rules regarding parking, noise, occupancy, and more.
According to Errin Briggs with the County, who is on the team of people who respond to complaints about STRs, Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) are not allowed to be rented short term, but the homestay laws allow for owners or long-term tenants to live in the ADU, and rent out the main residence (as long as the number of bedrooms being rented does not exceed three). The homestay portion of the ordinance language was in direct response to community members who voiced concern over not being able to supplement their income with short-term rental income. The thought is that if a homeowner or long-term tenant is nearby on the property, the chance of disruptive parties and events happening is greatly decreased.
Briggs said illegal STRs are investigated on a complaint-based system, with County staff having access to a special software that tracks online listings across all STR third-party websites such as Airbnb and VRBO. “We do not actively go out looking for problems, but we do follow up on complaints pretty quickly,” he said, adding that the number of complaints about STRs has decreased dramatically since 2018. Once it is determined that a property owner is hosting an STR illegally, a Notice of Violation is sent with instructions to cease the activity within 30 days. If the activity continues, fines begin at $1,500 for the first month, and then escalate to $3,000 for the second month, $6,000 for the third month, etc., all the way to $15,000. “Our goal is to gain compliance; we’re not out there trying to be punitive. When necessary, we are not shy about using the fine and escalating it in order to gain compliance,” Briggs.
Elliott said the issue of STRs in the Coastal Zone has been on the County’s long-range work plan for years, and is expected to be back for discussion next year.
Neighbors affected by a suspected illegal STR in the inland zone can submit a zoning violation. More info can be found here: countyofsb.org/1053/File-a-Building-Zoning-Complaint.