There will be no vacation rentals allowed in Ojai.
After a year of debate, public hearings, policy proposals by a focus group, and suspension of existing rules, Ojai City Council voted 5-0 Tuesday night to make rentals of less than 30 days illegal in all parts of the city.
The ban means the city’s existing zoning code, which effectively prohibits short-term rentals in residential zones but had not been enforced, remains in place. In its ruling Tuesday, the City Council clarified that the prohibition extends to all areas of the city, including village mixed-use zones and commercial areas. Enforcement is expected to begin Feb. 1.
The council’s decision primarily targets informal rentals advertised online through sites such as Airbnb and VRBO, which have proliferated in Ojai and across the country in recent years.
“This online business model circumvents and undermines community zoning laws. It is also an assault on legitimate licensed businesses playing by the rules,” said Councilwoman Betsy Clapp. “These seemingly harmless home-based hotels … impact school enrollment, housing stock, volunteerism and community cohesion. I’ve seen how they have turned neighbor against neighbor. They are not good for our town.”
The council’s decision follows a year of public debate during which several alternatives to an outright ban were discussed. Proposals included limiting the number of rentals allowed, only permitting them during specific times of year and in certain areas, requiring landlords to obtain licenses and pay taxes, and restricting short-term rentals to properties where the host lives on site.
Some vacation rental owners argued that the properties provide needed accommodation for tourists in the city. Others said they relied on vacation rentals to support themselves.
On Tuesday, however, the vast majority of residents speaking to council cited negative impacts from the rentals, particularly disruption to residential neighborhoods and a decline in affordable housing for workers, seniors and families.
“We have a huge deficit in terms of affordable housing. If we allow this precious, precious housing for our citizens to be used for tourism instead of for our residents, we are doing a vast disservice to our population,” said Anita Hendricks. “Please, do not let these places go to tourism.”
Previously, landlords had an option to apply for a conditional-use permit for a short-term rental through the Planning Commission. The council’s decision Tuesday effectively removes that possibility, City Manager Rob Clark said. Only one property in the city has a conditional-use permit and that will remain in place, he said.
Mayor Paul Blatz suggested allowing vacation rentals in village mixed-use zones. However, council members Severo Lara and Clapp said they were concerned that allowing rentals in those zones would still impact city housing stock.
Clapp said vacation rental owners who need extra income can still rent out their properties long-term.
Councilman Randy Haney expressed concern about how an outright ban might affect property owners, but ultimately went along with the majority despite “deep reservations.”
The council also voted 4-1 to subpoena Airbnb, VRBO, and other online rental sites for information on existing vacation rentals in Ojai. Haney voted against the motion, citing concerns about enforcement costs.