Guide to Laws for Airbnbs and Other Short Term Rentals in California

The increase in popularity of short-term rental listing platforms such as AirBnB and Vrbo has caused quite a stir in many neighborhoods around California (and much of the world). Many local residents have demanded restrictions or even absolute bans on short term rentals (STRs). This backlash has led to continual changes in the laws related to STRs in many cities.

While we had previously listed specific regulations for many cities in California, these quickly became outdated, and nearly impossible to keep up with. So here we provide general information on STRs in California, with a few select cities.

Check with your city government for the latest regulations in your area. Note: If you aren’t sure about what city you are in, or an Airbnb is in – see What City Am I in?
Closeup Of Old Signboard Bed & Breakfast AirBnB VRBO

What is a “short term rental” or “vacation rental”?

“Short-term rental” (sometimes abbreviated as “STR”) or “short term lease” generally means renting a unit, like an apartment or house, for a relatively short period of time. The specific time period varies by city or other governing body (such as a Homeowners Association), but is usually defined as less than 30 days.

Any rental for longer than the short-term rental period is a standard or long-term rental.

People often rent short term for vacations or business trips. The most popular sites for advertising short term rentals include AirBnB and VRBO. Many people often simply refer to short term rentals as “an Airbnb rental.”

Can I list my place on AirBnB?

The legal situation for short term rentals is changing rapidly, and varies by city. Many cities restrict or even completely ban short-term rentals. Of those that allow them, most require you to register your unit and also to collect a “hotel tax” (Airbnb and VRBO have agreements with many cities to do this automatically).

Some cities only allow STRs in “owner-occupied” properties or units, banning “whole-home” listings. Others allow STRs only in certain neighborhoods such as commercial zones and not residential zones.

Cities may also consider “hosting” a short-term rental as a business so you would likely need to get a “business license” with the city.

Also, depending on if you are a renter or a homeowner, there may be additional restrictions, which you can find towards the bottom of the page.

City of Los Angeles

Under new rules passed in December 2018, effective July 2019 you may only rent out your “primary” residence, not a second home or investment property. However, if your property is rent-controlled, you can’t do it at all. You are generally limited to a total of 120 days per year. But as of October 2019, there may be some more changes coming soon. See more at our Guide to Short Term Rental Laws in Los Angeles.

Unincorporated Los Angeles County (see Where is Unincorporated LA County)

  • As of March 2024, new rules are likely coming. See our Guide to Short-term Rental Laws in Unincorporated Los Angeles County.
  • Current rules: for single family homes, you can rent to a max of 4 guests at a time; you must register with the county and collect “hotel tax” of 12%. For multi family homes, you should check with the Department of Regional Planning.

San Diego

Effective May 1, 2023, a Short-Term Residential Occupancy (STRO) license is required for short-term rental of a dwelling unit or part thereof for less than one month within the City of San Diego. Visit the STRO webpage for more information.

San Francisco

  • Certain types of units are not allowed to host STRs, including rent controlled units, ADUs, and non-residential areas of a building, such as a garage.
  • You must be a permanent resident of the unit you wish to rent on a short-term basis (which means spending at least 275 nights per year there).
  • You can rent a portion or your entire unit while you are also present for an unlimited number of nights per year. You can rent a portion or your entire unit while you are not present for a maximum of 90 total nights per year.
  • You must register your unit and pay $750 fee (can also be done directly through Airbnb).
  • Violators are subject to fines of up to $1,000/day, and Airbnb removes non compliant listings.

Are there any additional restrictions for homeowners?

If you own a property within a Homeowners Association (HOA) or Co-op, you are subject to the HOA or Co-op rules as well, which often restrict short term rentals. HOA rules are often more restrictive than city rules, for example, sometimes banning rentals of less than 90 days. If the city laws conflict with HOA rules, in general, the more restrictive rules apply. So, if the city says no rentals of less than 30 days, and the HOA says no rentals of less than 90 days, then the 90 day rule applies.

Check with your HOA Board for rules, often called the CC&Rs (covenants, conditions, and restrictions).

I rent an apartment or house. Can I legally put it on AirBnB?

Probably not, but check your lease. In addition to the above laws and rules, if you are renting a unit, your lease most likely has a restriction on any and all “subletting.” Some leases say you can sublet if you get approval from your landlord (but they almost definitely will not allow you to AirBnB the place). However, if by chance your lease says nothing about subletting or “assignment” of the unit, and if it wouldn’t violate any of the above laws, then you probably do have the legal right to AirBnB it.

Is it illegal to put a camera inside an AirBnB?

In California, it is generally illegal to record guests inside an AirBnB without their consent. But recording anything on the exterior of a house is generally OK. See more at our Guide to Privacy Rights.

Are short-term rental guests considered tenants in California?

Generally not. See our Guide to Laws for Short Term Rental Guests and Hotel Guests in California


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