Temecula imposes $1,000-per-day fine on short-term rentals

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The Temecula City Council voted Tuesday night to add a section to its municipal code reaffirming that short-term rentals are illegal in the city limits, and impose a $1,000-per-day fine on any such rentals operating within the city.

A short-term rental is usually a home or apartment that is rented for under 30 days, usually on a site like Airbnb or VRBO. They’re often an alternative to hotels, as guests can rent an entire residence rather than a small room, and are sometimes less expensive as well.

The council came to its decision on short-term rentals after a process that stretched over more than two years.

Short-term rentals have always been illegal in Temecula, but research conducted by the city showed more than 300 such rentals operating in town during 2017.

In 2018, the city conducted a series of community outreach meetings on the topic.

Over the course of those meetings, the city got some positive input, such as that short-term rentals create local jobs and can supplement a hosts income, but also plenty of negative feedback on lack of accountability when a host is not present on the property and issues with noise and parties.

In March, the city council heard a proposal for a short-term rental framework that would require a host to be present on the site. At that meeting, concerns were voiced about how that framework would be enforced, and city staff were directed to proceed with a contract with a third-party vendor to monitor short-term rentals within the city limits, continue exploring the hosted rental framework and return to the city council with an updated fine for short-term rentals.

After staff presented updates to the city council subcommittee on short-term rentals and the Temecula Planning Commission, the subcommittee in June instructed city staff to draft an ordinance reaffirming the existing short-term rental prohibition while still updating the fine. Staff had also been told in April to work on enforcement of short-term rentals before returning to potentially allowing hosted short-term rentals.

The ordinance passed by the council on Tuesday allows the city to levy the maximum permissible fine for an ordinance violation in a general law city for every day a short-term rental is in operation.

According to a city staff report, discussions with other cities showed that higher fines may be necessary to address short-term rentals, as cities with low fine amounts have observed rental operators will absorb fines rather than stopping illegal operations.

“Consequently, the City’s current escalating fine structure of $50, $150, and $250 is inadequate to address short-term rentals,” the staff report said. “The proposed resolution would increase initial and subsequent fines for illegal short-term rentals to $1,000 per day if a violator did not remediate the issue after a warning.”

Staff will return to the council in a year to give an update on enforcement and whether any changes need to be made to the ordinance.

In a post made on the Facebook page of Temecula Mayor James “Stew” Stewart Wednesday morning, the mayor said a cease-and-desist letter will be sent out to “every short term rental” in the city in about 30 days once the new ordinance has gone into effect, and the $1,000-per-day fine will begin being imposed if those properties are not removed from short-term rental websites.

“We truly hope we don’t have to (levy) a single fine on anyone,” the mayor’s post said. “So if you’re running a short term rental out of your home, please shut it down. The city has hired a third party vendor who is going to be collecting all the data from the Internet. That’s not just the obvious websites, but they can find ANY listing, anywhere on the web.”

Will Fritz can be reached by email at wfritz@reedermedia.com.