Bakersfield takes a look at Airbnb-style rentals | New


It hasn’t been quite a year since Javier Garcia started offering his Oleander house for rent on the Airbnb short-term rental platform, and despite the absence of any city regulations allowing such activities, he said: ” So far, all is well “.

The company makes a little more money than it would otherwise make by renting the place out for the long term, he said. Neighbors sometimes complain about the disturbance, and it has taught him to stay alert, but Garcia said he hasn’t heard anything from the city.

As far as all concerns are concerned, its location undermines local hotels and motels, he said, “competition is always a good thing.”

It’s a trickier statement than it sounds at a time when the Bakersfield city government is weighing homeowners’ private property rights against neighborhood compatibility and environmental concerns.

The city tried last year to develop local regulations for Airbnb and other short-term rental agreements known as STRs. The proposal would have addressed nuisances, brought in new tax revenue and created a new level of government bureaucracy to regulate such activities.

But the fact that the proposal went nowhere shows how STRs present a thorny set of regulatory challenges.

BUSY MARKET

As of Friday afternoon, around 300 STRs were listed online as available for rent this weekend in the Bakersfield area, with prices ranging from $ 39 to over $ 200. Some were studios, guesthouses, and others were homes with backyard pools. Airbnb’s website reported that more than 16,000 customers have used its platform to book stays in the city.

Ward 2 Councilor Andrae Gonzales said he had met people for and against STRs, and believed it was time for Bakersfield to establish vacation rental rules that would address potential issues in advance.

“Proactively enforcing each vacation rental would be a wasted effort,” he said via email. “I think the city should regulate them, charge TOT (transitional occupancy tax) like hotels and motels, and handle complaints about noise or other nuisances as it would for any other property. “

Skeptics include Ward 5 City Councilor Bruce Freeman, who said STRs can disrupt neighborhoods and discourage hotel development. He said fines awaited owners whose vacation rentals sparked repeated complaints of excessive noise and other code violations.

DOWNTOWN DILEMMA

The lack of consistent STR regulation in the city recently slowed down, if not stopped, a larger residential development proposed by the owner of the historic former Bakersfield Californian home, Harrell Holdings.

The company applied for, and was refused, a permit to convert an annex building it owns downtown into a single rental unit that can accommodate up to three people for up to 13 days at a time.

Explaining its decision, the city said hotels and motels seemed better suited for short-term accommodation and that it welcomed development efforts that shared its vision for the downtown area.

Harrell vice president Gizel Bermudez defended the company’s proposal, saying it would help tourism and business travel while providing an attractive option for shoddy motels nearby.

She proposed to collect an STR fee that would be set aside for security, cleaning, beautification and crime reduction. The company also said it wants to overcome this hurdle before going ahead with a larger project to convert the old neighboring newspaper building into long-term residential units.

NO RULES

A statement Wednesday from the city noted that its municipal code is silent on the issue of STRs. (A story on Monday’s Californian cover of Harrell’s proposal should have said that Bakersfield doesn’t allow short-term rentals but doesn’t ban them either.)

In the spring of last year, city staff took a hard look at the matter, after receiving a recommendation from Gonzales regarding the possibility of proposing a new vacation rental ordinance.

Staff returned with a report that STRs were often banned in residential areas intended for longer-term housing and that elsewhere issues ranged from noise, garbage and impacts on parking to more concerns. timely rental arrangements removing residential units from what is now a tight, long-term housing market.

SURVEY RESULTS

The city surveyed eight municipalities in the state that have regulated STRs and found that most have a permit, application fees, parking restrictions and noise regulations. All required TOT tax certification. As potential penalties, he referred to administrative citations, nuisance reduction procedures and a “three strike” system in which a trio of verified violations result in action against the owner’s permit.

Achieving all of this would require considerable staff effort and three separate contracts with outside vendors, according to the report.

The city said by email that work on an STR order was on hold. Meanwhile, code enforcement staff can send remedial notices to offending STR property owners or ask the city attorney’s office to send a violation letter, he said.

Besides individual neighbors, the hospitality industry is perhaps the most vocal critic of STRs.

HOTEL COMPLAINTS

Hotels are heavily regulated and must pay TOT local taxes, but that isn’t necessarily the case with STRs, said AJ Rossitto, legislation and communications coordinator for the California Hotel and Lodging Association. He said different municipalities have taken different approaches to regulating platforms like Airbnb, he said, and some are finding that STR property owners are not following zoning or taxation regulations.

“This paves the way for an imbalance,” he said. “Generally speaking, we just want a level playing field.”

Bakersfield’s Home2 Suites by Hilton sales manager Denise Taylor-Connor said STRs affect her business, but perhaps not as much as it affects hotels with shorter stays. She considers that Airbnb type rentals have an advantage over hotels in terms of cost but not sanitation.

“You don’t know how well the owner cleaned it,” she said.

Bakersfield Association of Realtors President Scott Knoeb has vigorously defended STRs. He said via email that the group would oppose regulations on short-term rentals in order to guard against any infringement of landlords’ right to rent their property.

RIGHT TO RENT

A ban on STRs would be a violation, he said, by treating an inherent right as a privilege. Mandatory inspections such as those in place elsewhere, he said, violate Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches. And zoning-based restrictions falsely neglect their continued residential use, he added.

Instead of cutting long-term housing when there is a shortage, Knoeb argued, DOS complements it.

“We desperately need more housing,” he said, “and less government interference in available options.”

About Michael B. Billingsley

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