By Tina Richards

The escalating number of short-term rentals (STRs) throughout Orange has led the city to consider setting policies, ranging from an outright ban, to strict regulations, to boosting enforcement of existing codes in order to lessen the strain on residential neighborhoods.

The city estimates it has between 150 and 200 STRs spread all over town. Any rental period less than 30 days is considered short-term. The popularity of such websites as Airbnb and HomeAway have made it easy for property owners to rent their condos, guest houses and entire residences for several days.

The city attempted to regulate them in 2013, requiring short-term landlords to get a business license and pay a transient occupancy tax. In 2017, the city determined that the municipal code does not specifically allow STRs in residential neighborhoods, so the license and tax requirements were lifted.  Since then, the city has relied on code enforcement to address negative impacts on neighborhoods.

Home invasion
Residents who reported their experiences with STRs at the Jan. 14 city council meeting were equally divided between those suffering from noise, parking, illegal activity and bunkhouse behavior who wanted STRs gone, and responsible landlords who self-regulated, limited rentals to families or single guests, enjoyed the added income and wanted them to stay.

Several people living on a cul-de-sac noted how their lives had changed when a family home became an STR that sleeps 18. “We now have a motel at the end of our street,” Mike Banko reported. “I have no idea who’s staying there,” Maryanne Ballestero said. “There’s no phone number to contact. Code enforcement isn’t willing to come out.”

“I came home one night, and there were 10 people and five cars at the house,” another neighbor told the council. “You never know what you’re going to get.“ Dominick Rodriguez added that his kids don’t feel safe and no longer play outside.  

David Hillman has lived next door to an STR for two years. The owner rents it to sports teams in town for competitions. “There were 22 guys there in October, 16 over Christmas,” Hillman said. “The property owner is mining our neighborhood for its quiet and peaceful charm. They are depleting that resource.  Imagine a hotel with no management on-site? It’s a business and should not be allowed.”

It’s on the owner
“I have a good neighbor policy,” Robert Bell, an STR landlord advised. “My rental house is the nicest house on the street. My neighbors have signed off on it.”

Barbara Sobel rents a small dwelling in her backyard. “I enjoy having people come to visit Orange; I show them around town. We live there. We have lovely guests. Being owner-occupied should be a regulation.”

Kathy Guzman rents her rear apartment, “mostly to Chapman parents coming for the weekend.  It’s a maximum of four people and we have off-street parking.  We’ve never had a problem.”

Another STR supporter pointed out that they bring commerce to Orange. She rents to Chapman parents, vacationers and conventioneers.

After hearing both sides from the public, the city council seemed ready to pull the plug. “This comes down to compatible use,” Chip Monaco said. “STRs are a clear commercial use. They can’t be regulated enough to satisfy families and neighborhoods. Code enforcement closes at 5 p.m. After that, it’s a patrol unit. Some landlords are responsible, but my threshold is ‘the greatest good for the greatest many.’  We should outright ban them.”

Fast and furious
“I feel the exact same way,” Mike Alvarez agreed. “Businesses should not be allowed in r-1 zoning. We have to move quickly and get our codes in order.” He then suggested the council vote to ban STRs right then and there.  

Mayor Mark Murphy was more tempered. “Sounds like we’re headed in that direction,” he said, “but I have a hunch there are already laws on the books that apply. 

There are boarding house rules. We have to get on top of frequent abusers. I suggest the owner should be on site, and a single-family home shouldn’t be advertised as 18 beds. But I want to exhaust what’s on the books before we create more regulations.”

There are provisions in the books to combat some of the complaints against STRs. They include property maintenance regulations, litter prohibitions, noise limits, parking restrictions and party ordinances. To date, however, they have not been consistently applied to STR.

Ways to go
Kim Nichols, noting that she owns a rental property in Newport Beach, said she “has a heart” for people who were responsible, but doesn’t want investors buying property for short-term rentals.  “Putting twin beds in the living room is just wrong,” she said. “My biggest concern is that we sit here without an ordinance, and we have 200 Airbnbs.”

“What I’m hearing,” City Manager Rick Otto summarized, “is to bring options back to the council at a later date, either restricting them completely, or making them owner-occupied. We’ll also look at the addresses identified as ‘problem children.’ There might be code violations that we haven’t addressed.”

The council encouraged staff to fine-tune the options sooner than later. “I want this to be an expedited process,” Monaco insisted. “It’s impacting lots of people.”

“I won’t vote for anything that’s in r-1,” Alvarez advised. “It’s off the table.”

Short-term rental complaints spur Orange council to action

February 2020