What can Del Mar learn from a recent story about the small town of Sedona believing short term rentals “killed our city”? Investors are turning houses into short term rental businesses; “instead of a community it is now an investment.” Prices are going up, squeezing out young families, forcing new teachers to resign, unable to find housing. Their new superintendent bid on four houses, each time outbid by short term rental investors. Only 29 houses are long term rentals, while short term rentals are now more than 20% of their housing inventory and growing rapidly. Neighborhoods are being overwhelmed by “party-time” tourist behavior. Citizens are up in arms.
I recently did an informal survey of my own neighborhood here and counted more than six short term rentals and several more homes owned by out of town people who use them only occasionally for their own vacations This means we have no opportunities for neighborhood or civic involvement from those inhabitants. On the other hand, I am pleased to see several homes nearby being purchased by new full-time neighbors who I fully intend to encourage to engage in the many volunteer opportunities in our small town.
These two trend lines illustrate my concern about “critical mass” in our neighborhoods and in the entire community. Our Community Plan vision clearly intends that we remain a small community with high levels of neighborhood and civic involvement. Our size dictates that we need to encourage full-time residency. Short term rental increases run counter to that vision. That is why we need to be firm about outlawing business activities in our residential zones. In addition to all of the other complaints about mini hotels in our neighborhoods, it is not good for our civic health and vitality.
I had a phone call recently from a friend that frames the concern. He had to move to another state but wanted to keep his nearby house here so he listed it for lease. He was approached by a short term rental business operator with a proposition that would enable him to increase his rental earnings by a multiple of 3 to 5, even after a 40% commission. All he had to do was turn over the complete management of the house for whatever rentals they could get: one night, a weekend, a week or two, whatever the market would yield.
Happily, he turned them down. But the point is made. If we open our residential zones to business development, we risk losing our identity. I guess we should have realized in working so diligently to preserve this wonderful town, we made ourselves a target for some to exploit.
So, how should we proceed? Even though our residential zones clearly forbid business activity, our very inventive City Council has come up with a 7/28 compromise. We can rent our homes short-term (under 30 days) for seven days up to four times a year. Predictably, the short term rental industry is objecting and suing—we shall see how the courts rule.
In the meantime, I suggest some of our local short term renters consider a new business plan based on the 7/28 model which fits very nicely into our long term rental patterns: summer vacation, racing season, and university schedules. The four 7-day rentals can be scheduled in the beginning of the summer, June and early July. Thirty day rentals would be booked during the racing season, July-September. Long term 9- month rentals can be timed to coincide with academic needs of students and faculty members.
Bottom line is that we could very easily become Sedona. We need to stay vigilant to preserve our residential character.