Community Partners Help Keep Santa Barbara Santa Barbara ™ Partners

Vacation Neighbors

By Cheri Rae

Santa Barbara is known as a great place to vacation. I’ve only lived here, worked here, raised a family here, and tried to contribute to the community that’s given so much to me: A beautiful natural setting, cultural and historic resources, great amenities and a fine neighborhood where I feel like I belong.


Except now, when it’s so commonplace to encounter an ever-changing population of strangers who rent out nearby bungalows and enjoy their Santa Barbara vacations in private homes far from their own homes. One place is frequented by a fair number of hot-tub revelers who, judging from their crude comments and wild behavior, might be better suited for a stay at a no-tell motel than at a Vacation Rental By Owner with a cute name. That one also allows dogs who typically bark all day and night when their owners are out seeing the sights and enjoying entertainment venues.

But for the most part these well-heeled Vacation Renters of Homes in the Neighborhood are pretty quiet folks who typically arrive in luxury cars or by taxi, walk to town for some shopping, and hang around the house, spending plenty of cash for their few days or even a week relaxing most of the day—just as vacationers do in fine hotels and increasingly, in private homes around the world.

What’s unnerving is for those of us who aren’t on vacation dealing with those who are.

As I work on my research, or type out a story, I sometimes gaze out the window, and cannot help but notice the couples decked out in their resort wear, sipping cool drinks as they while away the hours seated in the Adirondack chairs placed for their relaxation on the nicely appointed porch. They read, use their laptops and clearly enjoy themselves. Must be nice.

Yet, I can’t help but feel guilty going about daily life in front of them, interrupting their vacation idyll in their Home Away from Home as I go about the mundane tasks that must be done: picking up the mail, pulling weeds on the parkway, sweeping the sidewalk, bringing in groceries, taking out the trash and recycling. Who wants to be reminded about what you’ve taken a vacation to get away from?

The city ordinance that prohibits these short-term vacation rentals is a joke, with city officials claiming that the only way to enforce it is for neighbors to make a complaint—and even city council members intimidated into silence about the issue. I’m not about to turn in my neighbors for making an extra buck—some financing their own vacations by turning their homes into hotels.

The truth is that the more who get away with it, the more get into it—at least it’s a growth industry in our community. But this freelance lodging practice rips-off the city’s professional hotel industry, deprives the city of the proper amount of bed taxes. Yes, I know that some of these homeowners do charge Transient Occupancy Taxes and pay the city for their unpermitted short-term rentals—which the city happily collects while looking the other way at enforcement.

And there’s another reality to these unregulated rentals: It removes much needed “workforce housing” stock from being available to residents, while also introducing a sense of disquieting unpredictability when neighbors turn into clientele who check in and out, which doesn’t do much of anything to improve the lives of those who reside in the neighborhood all year long.

32 Responses to “Vacation Neighbors”

  1. Anonymous

    For a city looking for revenue I’ve always wondered if these home rentals and home swaps pay taxes or other fees charged by hotels

    • I read your view with keen interest since its an issue in our area too. However..even though the county ordinances say short term vacation rentals are not an “approved use” of your home, even if you are TRADING FOR NO MONEY …???

      This county also accents HOTEL TAX money from all of these deemed illegal home rentals. I like a lot of what you say…and feel you wrote a fair article.

      I would rather live next to a vacation rental that has an occasionally noisy guest that leaves in 48 hours to a week than some crackball neighbor that has a constant barking dog or

      In Big Sur, CA alone out of 22 smaller vacation rentals…these rentals paid 300k in one quarter for HOTEL TAX. So please don’t assume people don’t pay their taxes. In an area where property taxes can easily be 1500 per mos, occasionally renting out your house when you are a retiree sounds like a sane way to stay in a home and area you love.

      Santa Cruz County and SLO County both saw the financial benefits of creating jobs for everyone in a community with vacation rentals and created a sane permitting process.

      I am going to partly disagree with you about losing work force the vacation rental across from you really appropriate for WORK FORCE HOUSING? What would it get on a monthly rental. To me, a landlord is a landlord is a landlord…whether they rent for one week, four months or a year. In this economy, the little guys…need to be allowed to make some extra income while being responsible with their screening of tenants short or long and reminding them that while they are on vacation –the neighbors are not.

      California is a place where so many homes are second and 3rd homes…and the people who send their friends for free or go themselves and party up…make just as much noise as a vacation renter…what’s the big deal if someone subsidizes their mortgage with a rental. Neighbors should just talk to neighbors and give out their phone numbers…and say: Hey if my guests are too loud…call me. I value your quiet and privacy too.

  2. Anonymous

    Shhh! it’s one of our towns great cottage industries.

  3. BlackMarket

    I suspect (but of course I do not know) the illegal rental income goes undeclared to IRS as well. Even Rep Lois Capps failed to report hers; let alone ignoring she was running a rental operation in her single-family neighborhood

  4. William Munny

    How many of these homes do you think are properly licensed with the City for vacation rentals?

    I’m guessing most of the homes rented out for vacation rentals are handled through management agencies rather than the homeowner themselves. You give up a small percentage of the rental fees for the management services. Means the homeowner has even fewer inconveniences while the neighbors are left to deal with the problems. I’ve also heard people complain that the parking situations around these vacation homes gets out of hand as the renters pack a ton of people into them to share the expenses. Seems the City should just go after the management companies to make sure that all of their listings are properly registered rather than trying to go after each individual homeowner. The one referenced above is a SB company so it shouldn’t be that difficult to check with them.

    • Party Off

      Large groups and noisy parties are among the worst curses caused the invasion vacation rentals in single family residential neighborhoods.

      Sure, residents have large parties from time to time but in this case, it becomes every weekend. A true neighborhood blight with no over-sight or recourse. Thanks a lot.

      Neighbors can file nuisance actions against the owner in small claims court, so build your case against them with police reports about noise ordinance violations and maintaining a private nuisance.

    • Just as with anything, if properly and responsibly managed, a vacation rental can be a great addition to the neighborhood. Especially in these highly desirable, 2nd or 3rd home situations, where the home might otherwise be unoccupied. Typically the vacation renters are of higher income and are coming to enjoy the City and contribute to our community and economy which is largely based on tourism dollars. The responsible companies do in fact collect the Transient Occupancy Tax. The main problem is operating a “Vacation Rental Company” for stays less than 30 days, does not require a license from the Department of Real Estate. These companies, such as the one above are taking business away from Real Estate Brokers who have the proper Licenses, Credentials, Insurance, Experience and an overall interest in preserving the integrity of the Real Estate Industry. Leasing for any amount of time is a Real Estate Transaction, and should be handled by licensed and credentialed professionals.

  5. IrresponsibleResidentScofflaws

    Keeping this black market housing illegal is currently the best leverage neighbors have keeping it quiet and unobtrusive. Get too rowdy and misuse the sensibilities of the neighborhood and the force of law comes crashing down on the scofflaw owners. An IRS complaint might be the better enforcement agent than the city, when neighbors have complaints.

  6. Anonymous

    It’s good income if you can get it. Just look at Craigslist and you will find hundreds of listings.

    • I think its great that people can make some extra income…and not just the big hotels.

  7. Disable short-term rentals

    ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) needs to ensure these public accommodations for hire meet proper accessibility requirements.

    I am sure there is a good lawyer out there that can help anyone denied access to these public accommodations to understand what rights might have been violated by the vacation rental business owner or agent.

  8. The city and county should really be charging a yearly business tax on any property that rents out for less than 30 days of at least $1,000 and double in penalties if not paid and caught doing this. Collecting the actual bed tax might prove to difficult to enforce

  9. It’s so easy for the city to regulate this. Places like Palm Springs send someone to your door if they see your home or apartment on VRBO or Craigslist. It’s pretty easy to track these places, since they advertise. It’s rampant in SB and the people I know doing it do NOT need the money!! They are wealthy already, often buying up downtown homes for VRBO renting, never intending to occupy the place. Ka-ching!

    • Anonymous

      That would mean someone or a whole department would actually have to work.

  10. FightBlight

    City council needs to survey “best practices” for zoning enforcement. Other cities have great programs, real turn-around programs. We could stand to learn a few things and stop ignoring this and de-funding enforcement officers. There are more efficient ways to handle blight enforcement than the personnel cumbersome, administrative inefficient way it is set up now.

    Try walking through a zoning violation complaint, cost it out, and see the value of the net results (if any) – bureaucratic nightmare, and that is when they had people on staff. Now I think there is no one FT on staff, so it is just an over-paid joke to even pretend they work on this — a primary link with city residents and property owners.

    Blight enforcement needs to be a number one priority. Vote for the next city council person who promises to put this back on the top of municipal services along with other direct health and safety issues.

  11. Be careful what you wish for. That’s all we need is a legitimate recognition of this practice and you will be having investors snatching up houses in Santa Barbara cookie cutting them into cash cows. If you’re envious of a neighbors’ money making operation or have too much time on your hands, that you’re being bothered by everyday life, maybe think about moving and not making a stink.

  12. I agree with Jeff: watch for the unintended consequences of your wish. Who wants to live in a neighborhood where the neighbors are peering into the yards to see if the legal owner is living in the house? Where the neighbors are clucking together about the other’s exceptional (to the neighborhood) yard – “weeds” instead of water-guzzling lawns, house tenants, vehicles, etc. Who wants city officials coming to your door because of your neighbor’s whispers? Not I, but I live in a neighborhood unlikely to be one in the VRBO listings. Even if we were in such a neighborhood, there are complaint mechanisms for noise and neighborhood disruption.

    (What are the licensing requirements, anyway: for 30 days and under, but not for longer periods? An occasional rental to a friend or a house exchange? The rule should be abandoned since it can not reasonably be enforced and so does nothing but brings out the tattlers or would-be tattlers …and disrespect for the law.)

    • i so agree with you. i know someone whose neighbors were taking pictures of cars in the driveway and so on. sending out emails to each other: “At 8:30 am i saw two people standing in the driveway drinking out of paper cups…” I mean OMG…get a life.

      If there is a noise the sheriff. if not…mind your own business.

      If you rent your house out for 30 days you are a landlord and this is NOT a commercial activity??? But at 29 days its an illegal hotel? Give me a break.

  13. Rick Attrix

    Yes, most of us do want to live in neighborhoods where offenders are spied upon and turned in for zoning ordinance violations. That is called protecting our investments. Once you stop demanding others give you housing in this town just because you want it and purchase your own, your thoughts will change.

  14. I live next door to one. My concern is in an emergency who is going to help these renters. There is no support for them in case of fire or earthquake. Will they then relay on the neighbors to take care of them. Will the management company be able to contact them all in case of evacuation? The fire department does not know when they have been duplexed and have VRBO’s staying there. We have had problems with them and the law. Fight about spouses and threats. What happens in Vegas does not stay in Vegas. It is destroying our neighborhoods.

    • You are actually concerned about who is going to help them in an earthquake??? oh come on. If any of us are in an earthquake or a fire…we just all help each other…and where is the extra burden? MAYBE THEY WILL BE HELPING YOU AND NOT VICE VERSA.

      the house next door to you..could have family guests or friends in it.

      No one likes to listen to people having spats or fights but I’ve listened to the couple across the street fight for years…ugh. I wish they’d go on vacation and fight somewhere else. People fight whether they are a vacation rental tenant or a long term tenant or an owner. Most people on vacation are happy and don’t have a reason to fight. I am sorry though that you have had to deal with unpleasant situations. I would say: take positive action and just let the landlord or agency know when they have guests that get out of hand. I’ve had a loud vacation rental house across the street from me. I just call the agency and they ask them to quiet down. however, when i’ve asked the parents of partying teens living a few doors down to quiet down after hours of noise and slamming doors they weren’t as nice.

  15. Bad Plan

    City of SB carefully plans out its resources for the known population: water, traffic, city services, employment opportunities, infrastructure needs, waste management and schools according to the number of legal housing units.

    When capacity is informally increased by this unaccounted short-term rental population, demands are placed upon the existing infrastructure planning that are intended for the known population.

    When a household known to have two residents using water everyday, increases to 3 additional underground residents using water every day, the city did not plan for 5; only 2. Who pays and how does this increased actual demand get met.

    Police and fire come to evacuate two residents and find out there are five of them. Multiply this impact times how many illegal rentals exist in this city. This is why this is all of our problem and not that we are just noisy neighbors.

    One can slip through, a few more can slip through but today I suspect we are talking about thousands of unacknowledged black-market renters who impact our existing resources severely.

    This means all of us here legally suffer from the selfish excesses of the few who skirt not only the law, but go underground when it comes to city resource planning leaving the rest of us with the short end of the stick. Thanks a lot, greedy landlords.

    • DO THE MATH!!! If you really do the math..most vacation renters are only there for 48 hours…over a weekend but a family of 5 would be using water every day and washing their clothes and washing their cars etc…way way more water useage than a family in a vacation rental who are most likely not even using the bathrooms that much because they are out in SB restaurants and parks using their facilities while they spend money helping the tourism economy of SB.

      I personally know two vacation rental owners on the coast who paid for all of their utilities for their long term tenants who “we’ren’t even paying the rent” Once they got sick of that…and went short term rental their PGE and Water bills were 1/4 of what they used to be. Get the facts, be informed…and be smart about what you are saying…some rentals do cram a few extra people in but they still aren’t using as much water as a full time family.

  16. Boo-Hooo

    Typical…….. I ‘ve got mine, now go get yours. Who cares? Santa Barbara has always been ground zero for the illegal rental. The garage conversion. The attic conversion. The shed conversion. Police and Fire continue to show up during an emergency. That person living in that illegal unit pays rent to the homeowner. He in turn pays his/her mortgage. They go to the store and buy things. They buy stuff for their units. They pay bigger water/electric bills due to increase usage. Santa Barbara can absorb the unaccounted population just like they do during Fiesta, Solstice,etc. The Piper gets paid, only when and if the property changes ownership. And then only after the inspectors come and leave ,the illegal stove, fridge,removed and pipes capped…guess what happens all over again in short time? All those nosy next door Goody-Two Shoes are only going to end up with an ulcer. Gee…and we haven’t even addressed foreign exchange students living in our mist.

  17. Two-way street

    Boo, hoo. I got mine playing by the rules, saved, worked hard, bought what I could afford and finally paid it off.

    Boo, hoo. You want to get yours in just the opposite way. Break the law, do it under the table, degrade the neighborhood, and resent everyone who did it the right way.


  18. Nice article. Problem is that your utopian idea of neighbor bunches of old historic small bungalows that have work at home or semi retired middle aged women ( and sometimes men ) living harmoniously together, either sitting on the porch waving at each other while drinkin their hot cups of Folgers coffee….is not ever goings to happen. What you fail to see if that many of these vacationers are probably hard working people who slaved to earn their own house and property, and have looked to spend some of their disposable income onto the SB economy. Owning a house in the downtown one should expect diversity ( both the bad and the good )

    • Cheap shot

      You miss the point. Do your vacation rentals legally, with all the restrictions other hotel/motel operators have to face.

      If you don’t like the current zoning restrictions, change them through lawful process. Let the entire community weigh in on your proposed changes to turn all residential neighborhoods into commercial hotel/motel zones.

      And then honorably, abide by the results.

      • Well i see it differently….a home is a home is a home. And it does NOT have to do what a hotel does because it’s a HOME. and there should be no discrimination between a LONG term or SHORT TERM landlord.

        So if a LONGTERM LANDLORD does not have to put in a sprinkler system but a short term does? so a 30 day or more landlord gets away with no sprinkler system for the same five people living in the home but a 29 day landlord or 14 day landlord has to get a sprinkler system??? Does this really really make any sense?

        Being a landlord of any type is a financial risk and is commercial activity whether its shorter or longer term. And no one in their right mind would go BUY a property and expect it to make a profit doing short term the math! Subsidize yes, profit no, only in rare occasions.

  19. I have to offer one correction to the article on vacation rentals. The city of Santa Barbara does not prohibit vacation rentals. It does, however, require that such businesses have a license and collect the 12% transit occupancy tax, just like the hotels in town. Our own vacation rental contributes many thousands of dollars a year to the city’s coffers. The total receipts to the city from vacation rentals must be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars or more. And I doubt there are very many unlicensed short-term rentals. City officials can, and do, read the ads on Craigslist and VRBO as well as anyone.

    Tourism is Santa Barbara’s major industry. Vacation rentals make it more affordable for families to visit our town; renting a two bedroom house can be cheaper than a hotel room. These visitors go on to spend in our shops and restaurants. Rather than depriving the city of anything, vacation rentals contribute a great deal to Santa Barbara’s economy.

    And BTW, we give our phone number to our neighbors and ask them to call if there are any problems.

  20. Get these illegal conversions/tenants out of here. Trash box cars all over the residential streets, noise, classless jokers from mostly down south. Hill billiy trailers and garbage strewn everywhere. Keep them out. Report to city hall and police for illegal tenants in homes.