Short-Term Rentals: A Viable Alternative to Hotelpocalypse?

Hotelpocalypse. Say the word, and chills run down every SDCC attendee’s spine. The name by which Comic-Con International’s hotel lottery has come to be known is no less descriptive as it is accurate. Just as with SDCC badges, there are far fewer hotel rooms than there are people who want them – 19,500 or so rooms in the CCI hotel block compared to 130,000 attendees, which can make finding a place to crash at night difficult. Very difficult. (And no, we don’t have a date yet for this year’s General Hotel Sale — but it will likely take place sometime after Open Registration).

Some, however, feel they’ve found a shortcut around it: short-term rentals. They go onto sites like Airbnb, HomeAway, or VRBO, and within seconds they’ve booked a place to stay. No muss, no fuss. More importantly, no Hotelpocalypse.

In many tourist communities, short-term rentals are not a problem. This is not necessarily the case in San Diego, though. Visitors who come to San Diego seeking to stay in short-term rentals find themselves in an extremely gray area with few places to turn should the rental go bad, and they often do. Every year, we hear from con-goers who thought they’d beaten the system with a short-term rental. Instead, the property owner realizes the premium they could charge for their space during SDCC and significantly increases their rate or cancels the reservation at the last minute, often not telling the renter. Since there is little to no regulation on short-term rentals, these poor, unfortunate souls find themselves with no recourse but to pay the inflated rate or sleep in the Hall H line.

The issue of short-term rentals in San Diego communities has become heated over the last year. Many residents in high-end communities like Del Mar do not want short-term rentals at all. They see their communities as places where neighbors know and trust each other and don’t feel safe with neighbors who only come for a weekend. In April of 2016, the Del Mar City Council voted to place a moratorium on short-term rentals. This stopped new rentals from popping up but did not prevent the current rentals from operating. As of time of publication, the moratorium still stands. That’s the extent of action their city council has been willing to take, however, and residents are becoming very upset. Those residents who do offer their homes as short-term rentals see it as a way to gain equity on their homes, and local communities see it as a way to boost tourist economy. The residents who oppose them see them as a nuisance that brings noise complaints, crime, and depreciated property values.

The City of San Diego itself voted against outright banning of short-term rentals in November, 2016, as regulations on short-term rentals in the city’s code were not clear enough for an outright ban. At that meeting, however, council member Todd Gloria moved that city staff develop clear regulations to enforce short-term rentals in San Diego — something that’s still ongoing.

Crown Point Rolls Out the Unwelcome Mat for Short-Term Rentals

That same month, residents of Crown Point, a popular beach community in San Diego, sued Mayor Kevin Faulconer and then-City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, claiming short-term rentals are illegal and destroying their community. Citing the same municipal code council members described as unclear, they filed their lawsuit, hung banners, and posted signs to shame current short-term renters. They are being fueled by the site CureSTR.org, which cites studies done by Harvard and Penn State to discredit short-term rentals. These residents are also blaming a recent shooting in that neighborhood on short-term rentals.

Recently, the city attorney’s office has added some clarity to the short-term rental issue in San Diego. City Attorney Mara Elliott, who replaced Jan Goldsmith this year, declared short-term rentals illegal in single-family residential zones in San Diego. She argues that the current code does not allow for businesses to be run in single-family residential communities, including the business of short-term rentals. The San Diego City Council plans to continue discussions on the issue and hopes to reach a compromise. In the meantime, the city attorney’s memo stands.

Are short-term rentals a good short-cut around Hotepocalypse? There is definitely a high risk involved. Even if the city code does allow for short-term rentals in some instances, readers report every year having their reservations cancelled as property owners figure out they can charge a much higher premium for Comic-Con week. In other words, if the deal seems too good to be true, it is.  While it seems like an easy way to find a place to stay during SDCC, it’s just not worth the risk. We would rather go through Comic-Con International’s hotel lottery than risk being ousted from our rental by an angry mob.

Have you had experience with short-term rentals in San Diego? Let us know in the comments.

About Andy Wagner

Andy Wagner

San Diego local born and raised in PA. His loves include SDCC, Penn State, and writing.

  • justboogie

    Two years ago I booked an airbnb right next to the Manchester Grand Hyatt. The host had good reviews (at the time) and the price was affordable, nearly the same as hotel through the lottery. I was able to book it 6 months in advance from CC. Booking a hotel without even having a badge gave me piece of mind that it was one less thing to worry about. About 4 months before CC I decided to email the host to ask for a refund because I secured a hotel through the lottery. After a few weeks I got no response from the host. I finally called the host directly and I discovered it was managed by a property management company. I asked to speak to the host of the unit, but the receptionist said that she was out. I called back periodically each week and I was getting the run around that she was always out. Really? She’s never in her office? Unbelievable! Finally I contacted airbnb and they finally got involved. I eventually got my full refund, thank goodness. Airbnb investigated this host and found that she had scammed other renters like me so they deactivated her account and banned her from the site. Needless to say, I’m very weary when it comes to booking a unit on airbnb for CC. Not only is it ridiculously expensive, you could easily get scammed. Be careful!

  • mimi

    Last year I tried Airbnb and I did not find anything.

  • Freight

    AirBnB vouched for a host who wanted a payment via Western Union when I called them directly. After I paid, I found out the host’s account was hacked, and AirBnB claimed they warned me after I already called to ask about the situation. Won’t do again… ever.

  • magnolia46

    Last year, I found a little house in Northpark on VRBO. It was a little cheaper than the hotels, and I was out of the country when the hotel lottery opened. I couldn’t handle the stress and just needed a place booked. It was a great way to see a fun neighborhood in the city. We found great places to eat and spent a day before the con just exploring. A short Uber and we were in the gaslamp district. I would do it again in a heartbeat. We had a great experience.

  • Aloki

    I got nothing in the hotel sale last year so I stayed in an adorable little airbnb cottage in the University neighborhood. It was perfect and the third of a cost of a downtown hotel. I wonder if it wasn’t “up priced” for SDCC because it was a 20 min drive to the convention center. I hope others have a good experience too if they get shut out in the sale.
    P.S. It was amazing to have a kitchen and the extra room!

  • Ashley

    We booked an AirBnB last year near Little Italy and it was perfect! I had no luck with the lottery so I was so happy when I found this cute place for half the cost. BUT after hearing horror stories of last minute cancellations and issues I basically was having a panic attack every day until we got the key and walked into the apartment. I was so glad it worked out for us, but I’m not sure if I would take the risk again. 🙁

  • ekeyes

    We tried for an apartment a little over a mile away with instant booking for this year, and a day after the host messaged me that there was a “pricing error” and it would actually be double what I paid, and if I didn’t like it I should cancel. I called Airbnb who looked into it, and they ended up canceling it on me with no explanation (maybe it actually was a pricing error but who knows). They gave me a $200 rebooking credit, but lo and behold, there was that same apartment but over a hundred a night more. Everything else is in the $400s per night for what we were looking for. I won’t trust it again unless I absolutely have to (like I miss out on the hotel sale).

  • Lyndsey

    my friend and i booked an airnbn in mission valley literally like a minute away from a hotel on the shuttle bus route. we were nervous about cancellations too and stuff like that but we booked months in advanced and talked to the host and she was really nice about the pricing and stuff and seeing it was in mission valley the price was really good. and we did it that way so we could make the 5 minute malk to the hotel and take the shuttle bus to the con. so i would stay at an airbnb again but i would say please look into everything before you book it.. and tbh if you go to comic con every year and never have luck with the lottery, book the airbnb well in advance (like as soon as you know youre going to the con) just in case.. you can always cancel (please be sure to check all the cancellation rules and stuff) it if you do get a hotel of your choice in the lottery.. good luck guys!