The Pismo Beach City Council is cracking down on complacency from some short-term rental (STR) permit holders.
The city is currently home to 28 STRs but continues to rack up complaints from residents alleging neighborhood nuisances and noncompliance. At its June 21 meeting, the City Council unanimously approved an interim urgency ordinance to impose a moratorium on issuing STR permits and deliberate more robust enforcement policies at a later date.
- File Photo By Kasey Bubnash
- WATCHFUL EYE Pismo Beach city staff will examine stricter short-term rental regulations that will impose stronger penalties ranging from larger fines to permit-submission suspension.
"I'd like to know where the hell we went wrong? We got a great town here, and all of a sudden it's so attractive to everyone that they don't care how much they have to pay for a penalty. It happens everywhere. ... They will pay anything just to have use of the house," Councilmember Sheila Blake said at the meeting.
While violations of STR regulations can be prosecuted criminally as a misdemeanor, most incidents are solved with fines starting at $750 and $1,000 for each violation thereafter. Councilmembers Blake and Scott Newton declared such measures weren't punitive enough. The city's staff report details that Pismo Beach imposed almost $30,000 in fines since 2020 for STR violations. Nearly half of that amount came from winning a court case that a then-licensed STR operator filed against the city to overturn $16,750 in fines for illegally operating out of their rental.
"Unfortunately, people think they can do what they want and the municipal code appears to be advisory. ... I assure you the municipal code is not a recommendation, ... we do enforce them. We see an increase of people choosing to say, 'I'm not going to pay your fine, have a nice day,'" City Manager James Lewis said at the meeting.
City officials aren't the only ones who are annoyed. In the lead-up to the meeting, 10 Pismo Beach residents sent letters complaining about a specific STR at 125 N. Silver Shoals Drive. They alleged that the owner who recently inherited the property does not physically live there for the required amount of time to be STR-compliant. Further, they complained about a constant turnover of tenants being a nuisance to the neighborhood in terms of parking and trash disposal.
"The owner ... began to run an illegal and unpermitted STR in October, November, December, and January until the neighbors kept complaining to the city. The city fined her, and then she immediately changed her driver's license on Feb. 14, 2022, and most likely her voter registration at the same time. She discovered what documentation the staff wanted to see to issue her a permit. Staff ignored the most important section that requires that the owner live and OCCUPY the property for more than 6 months. She clearly has NEVER lived at this address, yet the city granted her a STR permit against the city code," read one letter.
That letter also alleged that Pismo Beach provided neighbors with the wrong hotline number to file complaints. City Attorney David Fleishman announced at the meeting that the neighbors were welcome to present evidence for the city to investigate.
At a future meeting, City Council will deliberate setting more stringent rules around permit issuance. Some of these include increasing the length of time a property owner has to live in the house, enforcing stricter guidelines on trash disposal and pickup times, not allowing illegal rentals to apply for a permit for several years as punishment, get neighbors involved in approving rental permits, and implementing a cap on the percentage of single-family housing units in single-family zones to preserve housing stock.
"I don't want the onus to be put on neighbors, and it seems like right now it is. There's got to be another way we can strengthen our own ordinance, so these little things don't trickle on to our neighbors, and these bad eggs don't get in," Councilmember Marcia Guthrie said. Δ