Murrieta council hears from public before making decision on short-term rentals

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Locals discuss the pros and cons of short-term rentals at the Feb. 18 workshop held at Murrieta City Hall. Valley News/Lexington Howe photo

Murrieta City Council recently discussed the direction that city is heading regarding short-term rentals with community members after Temecula’s recent decision to ban them altogether.

Short-term rentals, according to a staff report given at the workshop held at Murrieta City Hall Feb. 18, currently falls into two areas: a whole home or “non-hosted” home where the homeowner rents out an entire home, or a homeshare or “hosted” home where the homeowner resides in the home during the stay.

There are currently around 220 short-term rentals in Murrieta. According to the staff report, 89% of the short-term vacation rentals are at single-family homes, 58% are whole home versus 41% as a homeshare. Airbnb is the primary booking platform with 74% of guests using the site as a means for travelers to experience the city and for locals to make some extra money or for use as a sustaining lifestyle.

Some of the benefits outlined in the report included the extra income to homeowners, the options it provides for families and pets and the hope that it would encourage local sightseeing. Transient occupancy tax would also potentially be collected if it was a regulated option, and the tax would help pay for the city’s streets, parks and other services.

Some of the drawbacks could include an increase in nuisance complaints, issues with trash, parking and safety, and there could be changes in the community or neighborhood and additional enforcement costs.

The city council opened the floor to public comments.

“It’s about finding a balance,” Murrieta resident Kassen Klein said. “Certainly, a private property owner who wants to rent out their house, they have that right. However, what cannot be lost is the consideration of the neighbors that purchased the house perhaps in advance of someone buying that house and turning it into an Airbnb.”

Out of the 20 or so residents that spoke on the issue, over half were in favor of keeping short-term rentals.

“I’m not for prohibition; I am for regulation,” Klein said. “Reasonable regulation. I think we can find a reasonable balance.”

Several of those residents stated that their management of Airbnbs in their own homes were ways to help pay mortgage and bills.

“We don’t want to have party houses next door. I don’t want a party house next door to me,” Murrieta resident Jessica Abrego said. “I have an eight-page contract that I make every rental sign. It goes over the noise complaints. It goes over parking. There are fines in place, and if someone breaks those fines, the guests are fined. I get that money, and I give it to the neighbors.”

Murrieta resident Jennifer Conklin has also used Airbnb as a way to help pay her mortgage and save her home, along with teaching her children how to run a business.

“Since Airbnb I’ve taught my 18-year-old twins how to run a business out of our home, they’ve learned both about learning how to run a business and being held accountable to do a job that creates learning experiences and pride,” Conklin said.

While many praised the idea of keeping them, some residents shared their disapproval.

John Beerling, a current Murrieta resident, spent 42 years in law enforcement, is a 32-year veteran and captain retired from Los Angeles and spent another 10 years with the district attorney’s office. Beerling did speak in opposition to keeping short-term rentals.

“I have been in legal issues in L.A. dealing with public nuisance regarding homes like this,” Beerling said, also referring to a problem he is currently dealing with regarding a recent opening of an Airbnb in his Murrieta neighborhood that has caused problems.

“It’s a huge burden on city staff, the city attorney’s office, code enforcement, building and planning, the fire department and the list goes on,” he said. “Once you get these landlords that come in here that rent these things for nothing more than money and have very little management behind it, it becomes an eyesore.”

Beerling related Airbnb’s disrupting homes as a quality of life issue.

“The neighbors next door are already getting beer bottles thrown over the fence at midnight,” he said. “The next-door neighbors already got cars blocking the driveway when they get up and try to leave in the morning. I’ve already witnessed a fight in the middle of the street at midnight.

“You have the opportunity to stop something before it becomes a problem. It may not be a problem tomorrow, but as an expert in crime I will tell you it will be a problem in a decade,” Beerling said.

Council member Kelly Seyarto was also concerned about the community.

“Some people are upset because they’re going uncontrolled, and some people are upset because we’re even thinking about, talking about doing something about it,” Seyarto said.

The city council brought up Host Compliance as a possible service to maintain and control documentation of rentals in the community as an option if the city decides to keep short-term rentals and provide regulations.

Other cities are implementing other methods like using “good neighbor” brochures, insisting that they meet with the renters in person and check identification. A “good neighbor” brochure goes over trash pickup requirements, storage, parking requirements, noise requirements and things of that nature.

The city could therefore take several approaches, from least to most restrictive: The city could leave it as is and not do anything; They could require a business license of collecting TOT; the city could move toward being at a hosted/non-hosted position, which eventually could mean a hosted-only position and lastly, the most restrictive being prohibition.

Mayor Gene Wunderlich thanked everyone for their input.

“Thank you for maintaining civility. We know this can be an emotional issue and one that will have an impact one way or another on everyone in town,” Wunderlich said.

The floor was opened up for the council.

“One thing I’m really taking into consideration is the one person that said there’s one one-thousandth of a complaint, but I have to tell you if you’re that person that lives next door to that, and that’s a party house, you’re ruining their lives,” Seyarto said. “That’s because people are being inconsiderate, and so we really do need a way to regulate that.”

Seyarto suggested that staff bring back a couple of options for policies and regulations, including the potential for having a company like Host Compliance regulate the businesses instead of doing an outright ban.

“With Temecula outright banning it, and us doing something in the middle, it’d be interesting to see how that is able to quell the issues that the people might have, because their issues are real and I don’t want to discount those, versus the people that are very responsible with what they’re doing,” he said.

Councilmember Jonathan Ingram also gave his thoughts.

“What I don’t want to do is take something that is a viable source of income to a family or an elderly individual and regulate it so that it’s now taking out the ability to be competitive,” Ingram said. “What I’ve heard from the 20-plus people is that’s why they use Airbnb, it’s competitive, it’s accessible and not everyone can afford $500 a night for a hotel room,” he said.

Ingram did show some concern regarding if they kept short-term rentals, what would be the limit or amount that they would cap off on, seeing that Murrieta currently has 220.

The general consensus from the council seemed to lean more toward regulation of short-term rentals instead of banning them, though a decision has not been made yet.

Lexington Howe can be reached by email at valleystaff@reedermedia.com.