San Diego Woman Must Pay $15K Fine Over Airbnb Rentals

Cities across the country have been cracking down on Airbnb and homeowners who rent through the service but may be playing fast and loose with the rules: from enacting city laws and creating offices to enforce said regulations, to ordering the company to pay millions of dollars in hotel taxes and levying fines against those who provide accommodations through the site. The latest such case comes out of San Diego where a woman was recently ordered to pay $15,000 for renting rooms in her home in violation of city laws.

NBC San Diego reports that a 70-year-old woman must pay $15,000 of a $22,400 fine after she failed to abide by a city order to cease renting her home through Airbnb.

The woman, who has rented two rooms in her home for $80/night since 2012, allegedly violated a city law against operating a bed and breakfast without a permit.

A hearing officer with the city determined that the woman’s rentals fell within the bed and breakfast code because she used her primary residence to provide lodging for less than 30 days to paying customers.

Her status as a possible B&B operator came to the city’s attention in September 2013 after neighbors began filing complaints about what they called a “revolving door” of strangers taking up parking and loitering in their area.

Investigators visited the woman’s home in October 2013 and again in May 2014, eventually mailing a civil penalty notice in August 2014 ordering her to cease operating what they deemed to be a bed and breakfast.

While the woman says at one point she contemplated opening a bed and breakfast, she denied that her Airbnb rentals constitute such a venture and continued to rent rooms.

“She did not feel she should have to cease renting through Airbnb unless and until a judge told her she could not,” the hearing officer said in the decision. “She believed the city was wrong in its application of the Bed and Breakfast law to the Airbnb rentals and did not have the authority to stop her.”

The woman eventually stopped renting her room in November 2014 under the advice of her lawyer, while they tried to determine how city laws applied to her rental.

According to the San Diego Reader, the city does not currently have a specific code addressing short-term rentals, despite the fact it imposes a transient occupancy and other taxes on Airbnb rentals.

The $22,400 fine – of which the woman must only pay $15,000 as long as she ceases rentals and has no similar offense for two years – was calculated by charging $200 per day she failed to comply with the city’s order to cease and desist.

The woman’s attorney tells NBC San Diego they are evaluating their options.

“The issue in my client’s case is not whether you believe people should be allowed to rent their primary home (or rooms in their home) on a short-term basis in residential zones. That is a policy issue,” the lawyer says. “The issue in my case is whether the law the city used to go after my client actually makes her use illegal. The city collected transient occupancy tax from my client while at the same time hitting her with penalties for the very use the tax was for.”

Airbnb sent a letter [PDF] to the city on the woman’s behalf, noting that city leaders have in the past acknowledged code regarding home sharing are confusing and in need of clarification.

“Accordingly, we are calling for the City to stay the full amount of [the woman’s] fine and suspend enforcement efforts against other home sharers until the City Council completes its consideration of these code changes,” the letter states. “This is not an uncommon practice for the many cities who are currently navigating short-term rental reform.”

Woman Ordered to Pay $15K for Airbnb Rentals Without Permit [NBC San Diego]