Our beautiful Santa Barbara, known for its breathtaking coastal vistas and laid-back atmosphere, has become a popular destination for tourists seeking a serene escape. With the rise of platforms like Airbnb and VRBO, short-term rentals have surged in the city, prompting concerns from residents about the impact on neighborhoods and housing availability.

In response, the City of Santa Barbara introduced a new Short Term Rental (STR) pilot program, aiming to criminally prosecute illegal short-term rentals in the City of Santa Barbara (outside the coastal zone). The goal, to bring some order to the city. However, while the intentions may be good for the community, we would be remiss to not discuss some red flags, including the potential for unintended consequences and future legal challenges.

We are not attorneys, do not proclaim to practice law, however, we have been a part of this battle in the coastal zone of Santa Barbara for over 10 years now. We encourage you to contact an attorney for any further legal advice.

The Santa Barbara STR Pilot Program: A Closer Look at Potential Problems

Problem #1
The Santa Barbara STR pilot program now enlists the help of neighbors in identifying and reporting illegal short-term rentals outside the coastal zone. While the intention behind community involvement may be noble, the reliance on neighbors to make these determinations can lead to various issues. Personal biases, misunderstandings, and even neighborly disputes may influence the reporting process, potentially targeting innocent Santa Barbara property owners that have always abided by the law.

Problem #2
The municipal code and ordinance the City of Santa Barbara cites is NOT CURRENTLY IN FORCE in the Coastal Zone. Only properties outside the coastal zone are governed by SB Municipal Code Title 30 – New Zoning Ordinance and the code they reference SBMC 30.01.040(A)(2))

Until the City of Santa Barbara updates its Local Coastal Plan with the California Coastal Commission, the “Old Zoning Ordinance”, Title 28 is still in effect in the Coastal Zone and therefore the general public must know the coastal zone is not part of this ordinance according to the city.

Problem #3
While the Santa Barbara Short Term Rental pilot program’s aim to address the challenges posed by illegal rentals is commendable, its reliance on neighbors reporting along with it’s long-standing classification of coastal zone rentals as “hotels” raises valid concerns. The lack of clear criteria for identification of illegal rentals in the city is something the Santa Barbara City Attorney’s Office must carefully consider. As well, it provides virtually no direction for those located in the coastal zone of Santa Barbara as there exists no ordinance for “short term rentals” and they rely solely on “hotel” as the definition.

A more balanced approach, involving all stakeholders, including property owners, property managers, the California Coastal Commission and the tourism industry, should be adopted to find a sustainable solution that benefits the entire community without causing further harm to Santa Barbara property owners that follow the rules and collect and remit the taxes every month.

Of course, as property managers in Santa Barbara specializing in vacation rentals and short term rentals in the coastal zone for almost 2 decades, we keep an ear to the ground, finger on the pulse and always willing to speak with you about your rental and how we can help.

Also, if your vacation rental property manager in Santa Barbara told you to NOT get the business license in the coastal zone because you would be the “low hanging fruit”, they too could potentially be held liable if you get enforced upon by the City of Santa Barbara for operating without the business license or failing to remit the taxes. We encourage you to contact an attorney immediately if you are in this situation.

Contact us anytime. We’d love to chat!