Irvine Council Decides to Hold Off on Short-Term Rental Regulations

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Irvine City Council members realize they need to do something about the proliferation of short-term rentals in the city, but they said Tuesday they want to study the issue for several months before passing any new regulations.

Like many other places, the number of short-term rentals in Irvine has exploded in recent years thanks to websites like Airbnb, VBRO, and HomeAway, which allow people to list individual rooms or their entire homes for rent.

Two years ago there were only 10 Irvine listings on Airbnb, but now the┬ánumber has grown to around 370, according to Beyond Pricing, a website specializing in tracking vacation-rental data. Along with this increase has come a sharp rise in the number of complaints from neighbors about STRs — from a total of 6 complaints in 2014 and the beginning of 2015 to 62 in the period since according to a city staff report.

However, while several residents showed up to Tuesday’s meeting to espouse the benefits of STRs, no one came to complain about them. Local residents came forward to discuss how not banning STRs would be beneficial to Irvine and many of its residents.

Courtney Santos discussed how UC Irvine has many visitors, both national and international, that rely on short-term rentals during their stay. She also said “low-income contract workers” depend on STRs for cheap housing.

“As Mayor [Steven] Choi said at the start of the meeting, ‘Irvine is an expensive place to live.'”

A key question is whether the city’s zoning laws already ban STRs. City staff claims they do, but STR owners say the law is unclear. The zoning code states that “transient lodging accommodations” are not allowed in residential areas, but there is not a clear definition of what “transient” means; nor is the phrase “short-term rental” anywhere in the code.

Homeowner Jorge Zamora claims this lack of clarity has caused him significant problems since he had to leave Irvine to take a job in San Jose. During public comment, Zamora told council members that before he left for San Jose, he researched the city’s zoning laws and did not find any restrictions on renting his house for short periods of time.

However, a few months later, he received a warning letter saying that he had violated city regulations on STRs.

Councilwoman Beth Krom spoke for her colleagues when she explained that there “needs to be better clarity about what we do … and how we deal with it” before deciding on how to handle the issue.

Krom also wanted to learn more about what other communities are doing in response to STRs. The city of Anaheim, for example, has placed a moratorium on STRs until officials can come up with a better solution to the explosion of STRs near Disneyland and the many complaints that have come with it.

In the end, the council passed a motion by Choi to bring the issue back within 6 months so the council can be better educated on STRs in both Irvine and other cities before making any final decisions.

Kaitlin Washburn is a news intern from the University of Missouri. She can be reached at kaitlinwashburn@gmail.com.