Private investigator hired by San Diego HOAs to catch short-term rental violators

Posted at 6:31 PM, Feb 19, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-20 14:06:11-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Fed up homeowners' associations are now turning to a local licensed private investigator for help with catching homeowners who are breaking HOA rules by renting out their homes on short-term vacation rental sites such as Airbnb, VRBO and Craigslist.


“I admittedly watched a lot of Magnum, P. I. growing up,” jokes Nick Bradley of San Diego’s Bradley Investigative Services.


In the last 6 months, Bradley has taken on a new field of investigative work. He and his associates are being hired by HOAs to investigate homeowners and tenants who are violating HOA bylaws and CC&Rs that prohibit turning units into short-term vacation rentals.  


Bradley gave 10News an exclusive interview about this new area of detective work. He declined to offer us specifics about how he executes his investigations into short-term rental violators. We ask, “Do you ever pose as a guest and do you do surveillance work?” Bradley replies, “No comment.”


“My initial thought was [to laugh],” says San Diego attorney Dan Zimberoff. He represents homeowners and has previously represented HOAs. Zimberoff thinks it’s an extreme measure for HOAs to hire private investigators, but he understands why there’s so much passion over short-term rentals. “I think what makes this issue a little different [from others] is the dollars at stake, especially in San Diego. Some of these units can go for multiple hundreds of dollars a night or thousands of dollars. People care,” he adds.


According to Airbnb, San Diego is the second ranking city in the state for Airbnb guests, after Los Angeles. Per Airbnb, in 2017 there were 537,000 guest arrivals in San Diego, generating $100 million in host income. “Right now, it’s too lucrative for [homeowners] to not do this,” says Bradley.


The short-term rental fight in America’s finest city continues to be ugly. The city attorney has deemed short-term rentals illegal, per code. Meanwhile, the city council is delaying discussions over how to regulate them. Even so, certain HOAs have rules prohibiting them. The fines for violators can be astronomical. “It’s been $10,000 per occurrence in some situations,” adds Bradley.


If fines don’t work, court is another option. In 2012, The Mark condominium owners association filed a lawsuit against Thomas Stevens, a former condo owner, accusing him of violating the association’s policies about short-term rentals. He then had to pay out more than $100,000 after a judge ruled that he violated The Mark’s policies.


Bradley can help gather the evidence that HOAs need to litigate. “When [HOAs] go to court, my documentation and reporting will basically count as expert witness testimony for our side,” he says.


Zimberoff thinks it’s time for HOAs to consider allowing short-term rentals, but with reasonable and efficient regulations to curb nuisances, like excessive partying. “Instead of spending that energy trying to catch [a homeowner], let’s try to think of a long-term fix,” he adds.


For more information about Bradley Investigative Services click here.

For more information about Dan Zimberoff click here.