Operating short-term rentals in Costa Mesa is no longer allowed, at least for now that is.

The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to put a temporary moratorium on short-term rentals until staff can look into the pros and cons of the industry and determine which parts of the city would be best suited for the lodgings.

“We’ve had a lot of time that we’ve been hearing complaints in the neighborhoods and it’s just accelerating. It’s not getting better, despite lots of outreach to these property owners. They don’t seem to be listening or caring for the neighborhoods within which they’re operating what is essentially, party houses,” said Mayor Katrina Foley at the Tuesday council meeting.

The moratorium goes into effect immediately but those who are already running short-term rentals will have a month-long grace period to end operations. Council member Arlis Reynolds requested staff to look into fining people who don’t abide by the moratorium, which ends after 45 days.

“We do have an existing loud party ordinance, which has sort of been neglected a little bit,” said Councilwoman Sandra Genis. “I would encourage the residents who live near some of these party houses to continue to call and that the police continue to respond so that we can exact the fines that are associated with violations (related to) loud noises.”

The issue of short-term rentals has been landing on the agendas of city councils all over Orange County. 

In October, Newport Beach tightened its grip on short-term rentals, voting to increase oversight of the industry following years of complaints from some residents. Also in October, the Fullerton City Council voted to regulate the number of such rentals in that city and approved new taxes on the industry.

Some residents in Costa Mesa are also frustrated with the short-term rental market — which they complain attracts a noisy party loving and messy crowd that takes up parking.

A majority of the residents who spoke at the meeting were in support of the moratorium. One resident described his experience with a short-term rental as a “nightmare of a weekend.”

“It was basically three days of continuous party,” one resident said. “The worst of everything was that after this nightmare was over, neighbors found used needles and used condoms on their front yards, which I believe this is totally unacceptable in a neighborhood that is full of kids.”

Still for some residents operating the rentals is a form of income during a time when unemployment is high in the county because of shutdowns caused by the Coronavirus pandemic.

“A moratorium at this point … would quite possibly force some folks to sell their properties because there are some people obviously out of work, can’t do things and they have to rely on this income to stay on their property,” one Airbnb host told the council.

Costa Mesa has not been actively regulating short-term rentals but according to staffers, the city has been receiving an increasing number of complaints in the past several months.

There are also concerns that the in and out nature of short term rentals could help spread the Coronavirus without specific safety measures in place.

During the moratorium period, Costa Mesa’s Development Services Department will be looking at how to regulate the industry and present its findings to the Planning Commission, which will then make recommendations to the City Council.

The moratorium is in effect for 45 days and may be extended after that for months with another four-fifths vote by the council following a public hearing.

“I anticipate that we would not be back to council until midyear next year, sometime in between June and October. Certainly it wouldn’t go past October,” said Jennifer Le, acting director of economic and development services. 

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him @helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam. 

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