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By Breeana Greenberg

In an effort to shut down short-term rentals (STR) operating without proper permitting in Dana Point, the city has hired a third-party vendor to scrub advertisements for illegal rentals and has collaborated with short-term rental platforms to remove such listings.

During a presentation on code enforcement operations to the City Council on Tuesday, Jan. 18, Community Development Manager Jeff Rosaler said the department has also increased its summer enforcement efforts for short-term rentals and plans to update the city’s STR hotline.

“I’ve heard it’s been called like a whack-a-mole situation, where you shut down one and another one pops up,” Rosaler said. “That’s certainly the case here, but we are on top of it.”

The city has collaborated with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD), as well as the vacation rental companies Airbnb, Vrbo, and Expedia, which market short-term rentals on their websites and phone apps.

Rosaler explained that some of these companies have government liaisons who work with code enforcement officers to make sure STRs advertised on their sites are operating legally. Dana Point Municipal Code requires that STR owners publish their permit number on advertisements. Airbnb and Vrbo have removed listings that are operating without a permit, effectively operating illegally.

The city has been unable to contact other vacation rental companies.

While Mayor Joe Muller and Councilmember Jamey Federico acknowledged that Vrbo and Airbnb were among the two biggest platforms that come to mind, Muller also noted that illegally operating STRs may take advantage of the lesser-known, smaller sites.

“If I had an illegal short-term rental in the City of Dana Point, I’d be looking at different sites,” Muller said. “Because I think it’d be easier to slide it through there than it’s going to be on the larger ones.”

Rosaler added that STRs operating on other platforms are especially common on Beach Road.

That’s where a third-party vendor can help, according to Rosaler. The city hired Granicus, which looks through STR advertisements and creates a list of those illegally advertised without an STR permit. It also collects the city’s transient occupancy tax from STR apps and gives an audited list of data.

Before coming to the City Council meeting on Tuesday night, Rosaler noted that he saw 11 STRs advertised without a permit. All 11 had open code cases. Over the course of the year, Rosaler explained, the city had 58 code cases to stop illegal STRs.

“We’re constantly looking at the websites ourselves, especially in the offseason,” Rosaler said. “When (Code Enforcement Officer Ted Harris) is not out there pounding the streets, he’s at his computer looking for these illegal advertisements. And he’s writing (notices of violation), and he’s writing them citations.”

When a code enforcement officer sends a notice of violation, they tell the STR owner that they need to remove the listing, as they are operating without a permit. The officer then continues to check up on the listing until its removed. If the owner does not remove the listing, the officer may issue a citation.

For STR nuisances, not illegal advertisements, the city can fine an STR owner $1,500 on a first offense, $3,000 on the second offense, and $5,000 on the third offense.

Council directed staff to revise the code enforcement’s strategic plan to reflect Senate Bill 296, which mandates local governments develop safety standards for code enforcement officers, as they are at risk for threat or assault while on duty.

In addition, the council voted to bring code enforcement in yearly to offer an update on the strategic plan.

Breeana Greenberg is the city reporter for the Dana Point Times. She graduated from Chapman University with a bachelor of arts degree in English. Before joining Picket Fence Media, she worked as a freelance reporter with the Laguna Beach Independent. Breeana can be reached by email at bgreenberg@picketfencemedia.com

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