Short Timers

“Carmel isn’t the place to do it,” Bobby Richards says. “Go buy a vacation home in Pacific Grove,” where short-term rentals are legal.

The beautifully appointed 2,000-square-foot home built in the 1930s in Carmel is just steps from Ocean Avenue, and can be anyone’s home for a minimum of two nights booked on Airbnb—anyone with $795 a night. Those nights may be numbered now that city officials are on a “high-priority” mission to bring such short-term rental scofflaws to justice, says Community Planning and Building Director Marc Wiener. Officials expect to take several offenders to court in January or February.

This year, a team of three city employees have scoured Airbnb, VRBO, Homeaway and other similar vacation rental sites for 20 to 30 hours each week, hunting down rentals advertised for less than 30 days, which is illegal in Carmel.

“One of the problems in Carmel is we don’t have numbered addresses, so they have to go out to neighborhoods and compare photos,” Wiener says. “It takes a lot of time.”

Once they find homeowners in violation, they send letters explaining the ordinance; some voluntarily comply by changing their listings to a minimum stay of 30 days. A handful have ignored repeated letters, according to Wiener and City Attorney Don Freeman.

Freeman wrote the city’s ordinance banning all rentals for less than 30 days in 1989, and successfully defended it in the 1991 case Ewing v. City of Carmel-by-the Sea. The city won at Monterey County Superior Court and state appellate court levels; the plaintiffs appealed to the California Supreme Court, which let the lower court ruling stand.

The cost of chasing offenders could be high – Freeman told City Council in April it could be as much as $250,000 to pursue court cases against repeat offenders. Freeman estimates the cost of challenging the current group of repeat offenders will be much smaller, about $30,000.

City Councilmember Bobby Richards, who also owns the Lamp Lighter Inn, lists a litany of problems he sees with short-term rentals: He says they push out families and employees who need long-term rentals, and result in the loss of transient-occupancy taxes, which are charged to hotel guests, creating a challenge to funding city services like police and road maintenance.

Some listings have been known to advertise that landlords will charge for the transient occupancy tax, but there’s no mechanism for the city to collect.

“In what form can they pay the city – drop the money off at the front door? The city has no way of taking it,” Richards says. “It’s really a problem.”

Freeman says the city can’t collect taxes from short-term rentals; they’d be legitimizing the very practice the city declared illegal.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect the following correction. The story previously sited and example of a short-term rental outside of Carmel city limits, and therefore not subject to the city's new policy. This post now sites a listing within city limits. 

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(1) comment

John Moore

Short term rentals have ruined family life in Pacific Grove, especially during the school year. It is uncomfortable to have our children subjected to risks from all the strangers in our community. Short term rentals directly compete with our motels, so there is an off-set to claimed revenues from short term rentals. They violate every principle of zoning and land management, but are deemed necessary to pay for union salaries and about $160M in pension debt for which this council is totally responsible.

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