Costa Mesa City Council passes temporary ban on short-term housing rentals

Short-term rentals available through websites such as Airbnb continue to swell in Orange County.
As short-term rentals available through websites such as Airbnb continue to swell in popularity, Costa Mesa has become another Orange County community grappling with how to regulate the industry.
(John MacDougall / AFP/Getty Images)

Costa Mesa homeowners will be prohibited from renting out spare rooms, guest houses and other properties on websites like Airbnb and VRBO, after City Council members on Tuesday passed an urgency ordinance banning short-term rentals for at least 45 days.

The move was taken following an Oct. 13 council study session during which several residents complained of houses being rented out to large gatherings and parties that often result in code violations and calls to local police.

Opponents of short-term rentals say the practice also depletes the city’s housing stock, making it harder for young families and people who work in the city to rent, buy and live in Costa Mesa.

A temporary ban across all zoning districts — which could be extended by another 10 months and 15 days past the initial Dec. 10 expiration and then again for one full year — will give staff time to develop a permanent ordinance regulating short-term rentals and bring it to the city’s Planning Commission.

“This is a problem, and it needs some intensive study,” City Atty. Kimberly Barlow said. “The long-term planning process just takes too long to address the immediacy of the concerns.”

Costa Mesa’s Matt Wiech and Danny Wexler recently undertook Fitbit’s daunting 100,000-step Olympian Sandal badge challenge, walking 45 miles in one day in support of Orange County nonprofit WISEPlace.

Council members said Tuesday, given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, opening residences to out-of-town guests on an unregulated basis presents an added and unnecessary public health and safety risk.

“With the COVID risk, we’re now encouraging families not to have Thanksgiving,” Mayor Pro Tem John Stephens said. “It just seems very counter-intuitive to then have people for whatever reason, even if it is economic, allow a stream of people to come through their house. That would, I think, increase our risk of community spread substantially.”

A recent search of Costa Mesa properties available for rent through popular website Airbnb indicated more than 300 area listings were available for fewer than 30 days at a time for prices ranging from under $20 per night to upwards of $1,000.

Under the ban, 100% of that activity, including advertising properties for rent, would be prohibited. A violation constitutes a public nuisance, which may be enforced and punished as a misdemeanor offence.

The urgency ordinance takes effect immediately, although properties will have a 30-day grace period to comply with the moratorium’s mandates.

Other Orange County municipalities, including Huntington Beach and Newport Beach, are in the process of developing ordinances that could carve out allowable uses — including home-sharing, in which a homeowner resides on the property being rented — and define zones where rentals may be allowed.

Costa Mesa city officials were presented an option for allowing home-sharing under the ban. But council members Tuesday said opening the door to some allowable uses with no regulations in place would only complicate enforcement and cause confusion.

“Right now, especially with COVID, I would not encourage people to be staying with others,” Councilwoman Andrea Marr said. “We need a chance to step back and write an ordinance from scratch and put rules in place with no distractions and no in-between states.”

The first cohort of secondary students returned to campuses across Newport Beach and Costa Mesa this Monday. The second cohort will begin on Thursday.

Marr further suggested the city examine using a third party to potentially oversee a short-term rental program and possibly collect transient occupancy taxes or annual fees. She also favored capping the number of guests and how many nights they could stay.

Council members ultimately approved the urgency ordinance 7-0 and requested city staff develop an enforcement plan that would address repeat offenders and those who chose to ignore the moratorium, including daily escalating fines.

Speaking in a public comment, Costa Mesa resident Jaime Gomez said he favored a ban.

“It’s already hard enough to find a place to rent, let alone to buy in Costa Mesa,” Gomez said. “I wouldn’t really want STRs to continue to grow and take away available housing, especially for workers in Costa Mesa. I’d rather stay here and not have STRs push me out.”

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