Short-Term Rental Shuffle

Posted November 11, 2015 by The Argonaut in News

After spending $4 million on renovations, the owner of Venice Breeze Suites came close to losing his business over a paperwork snafu and growing backlash against Airbnb

By Gary Walker

The 85-year-old building that is now Venice Breeze Suites originally operated as a hotel

The 85-year-old building that is now Venice Breeze Suites originally operated as a hotel

In the eight years since Carl Lambert bought the boardwalk-adjacent Venice Breeze Suites, he’s $4 million remaking the historic 31-unit brick building into an urban chic apartment-style hotel.

If the three rules of real estate really are location, location, location, Lambert had them covered.

The only problem, he’d later find out, was that the previous owner of this particular location hadn’t filed all the paperwork necessary to convert the building from long-term lease apartment rentals to a hotel.

In the past few years, at least three complaints were filed against Lambert with the Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department — each claiming the building had undergone an illegal change of use from apartment to hotel, according to California Coastal Commission documents.

The city resolved its permit issues with Lambert in 2013, but it wasn’t until last week that the Coastal Commission debated whether to grant Lambert a coastal development permit to ratify the expensive changes he’s made.

Citing a rapid erosion of long-term rental housing due to the proliferation of short-term vacation rentals through online brokers such as Airbnb, some in Venice opposed Lambert getting the retroactive permit — including members of the Venice Neighborhood Council who had voted in 2013 to support him.

“Had we the foresight to see the big picture and not give Mr. Lambert a pass because he is a nice guy, because the apartments were remodeled nicely and because no one was aware of the many other [short-term rental] conversions in the pipeline, I am sure the board would not have voted to approve the project,” Linda Lucks, the council’s president at the time, wrote in a letter to the commission.

On Nov. 6, the commission granted Lambert a coastal development permit for Venice Beach Suites with the conditions that Lambert offer his guests alternative transportation options and pay a state application fee of $37,364.

“The proposed hotel reused an 85-year-old building and did not displace it with a lower-cost hotel. It displaced 30 residential units, which are a lower priority use under the Coastal Act and the Venice Land Use Plan. The hotel is also not consistent with a traditional high-cost hotel or even a traditional moderate-priced hotel because of the flexibility and amenities that it offers guests,” a report by commission staff states.

Lambert had two other things going for him: The city granted him permits to do the renovation work, and the building at 2 Breeze Ave. was originally built and long-operated as a hotel.

“During my ownership of the Venice Breezes Suites no renovations have been made without valid city permits,” Lambert said. “Venice Breezes Suites is returning to its original roots, as it has been used as a hotel over the last 85 years.”

The commission’s decision comes as L.A. City Hall is considering new regulations for short-term rentals that would prohibit building owners from converting long-term lease units to vacation rentals and require vacation rental hosts to pay the same short-term occupancy tax as hotel operators.

David Ewing, a politically active Venice resident who signed a petition urging the commission to deny Lambert the permit, lamented the possibility that others may attempt to follow Lambert’s lead.

“We’ve seen whole buildings that have become short-term rentals, and the city has to find a way to enforce the law on these illegally converted buildings,” Ewing said.

Lambert said he supports regulation of the short-terms rental industry.

“I understand the political backlash against Airbnb and other short-term rental operators, but there is a big difference between unprofessional people without the appropriate oversight [and others who pay taxes and are responsive to quality of life concerns],” Lambert said. “I pay the transient occupancy tax, and I think the city should use it to create real affordable housing.”


    David Ewing

    So you really believe Lambert when he claims he didn’t know what he was buying? This is a guy who had plenty of experience. If he only found out after the fact about failures to disclose problems with the property, it’s hard to imagine he wouldn’t have sued the seller. Sounds to me like he sold an experienced reporter a line of b.s.. Is he going to make the same claims when he converts the other two rent stabilized buildings he owns on the boardwalk?

      Karen W.

      Ewing, what I really believe is that you are a whiny douchebag that would do anything to punish people who have managed to be successful and make money. You continue to squander the time of some of the great residents in this neighborhood because they don’t live to pander to your homeless & down-and-out focused agenda. Thank goodness for Carl Lambert, and this fantastic property… and sorry it wasn’t converted to a giant storage facility for piss-soaked sleeping bags for your vagrants. How about you put your time and effort into securing your own property and getting the permits to put your shelter/affordable housing/homeless locker instead of trying to suck it out of others or The City? Or do you just not have those skills, thus you focus on mooching and complaining? Hmmmm?


        It is so easy to write mean comments about people on the Internet. I wonder if Karen W. will dare share “her” true identity. A lot of us object to the conversion of long term residential buildings to short term rentals for many reasons: 1) they change the character of a community – short term renters don’t volunteer at local non-profits, they don’t become members of the VNC or come speak out on issues of concern, they don’t look out for or know their neighbors in Venice; 2) it reduces the housing available for long term renters in a place where there is a critical shortage of rental housing; 3) it increases rents by reducing the supply of long term housing; 4) commercial operators skirt regulations that hotels have to follow, thereby creating an unfair competitive advantage; 5) they potentially harm hospitality industry jobs and wages; and 6) as Karen W.’s comments point out, it pits neighbor against neighbor.
        David Ewing is a man of many talents, who despite his level of success and privileged background has the compassion and conviction to speak up without fear, rather than hide behind an anonymous moniker to spout unfounded slurs. David you are appreciated, and thanks for all you do.


        Venomous terms like “whiney douchebag” are the last recourse of those without facts who prefer hate speech to discussion. There is no reasonable basis to deny that the invasion of corporatized short-term rentals has stripped hundreds of units from the Venice rental market, many of them rent-stabilized dwellings that made Venice affordable for the long-term residents, artists, and eccentrics that give Venice its sabor.

        The problem 2 Breeze was always that it was stripping away 30 affordable housing units. I cannot understand how Karen W. makes the leap from affordable housing to an attack on the homeless — unless she simply wants to change the subject and stir up the same kind of hatred that let to the landlord-ordered execution of a homeless man known as Shakespeare this summer.

        I have known David Ewing to be a principled and measured advocate who consistently speaks truth to power and wealth and count myself proud to work alongside of him.

        To quote the original Shakespeare, “The REAL w***** d********, methinks, doth protesteth too much.

        Kelly H.

        I agree with Karen. This Ewing character sounds like a real ass who does nothing to make anything better. Just sticks his long nose in other’s legit businesses, bitches and blames others for his failures, and generally spends his days practicing his NIMBY skills. Probably moved in less than 10 yrs ago.


    I’m not sure who Karen W. is, but I’m grateful for community activists like David Ewing who show up and stand up for Venice over and over.

    Before the speculators got here and turned Venice into a cash register, we had a community, a famously scrappy, creatively-off-the-charts, accepting, unique coastal community. With new investment, there were many, many opportunities to grow into a prosperous AND responsible community. But prosperity seems to have won out to the exclusion of all other goals. Thanks to Venice folks like David and others, at least government officials will be reminded once in a while of their responsibility to the people and our unique community.


    It stretches credibility to believe that an experienced, licensed real estate broker and attorney, one who continues to operate one un-permitted project after another, found out after the fact that he purchased a rent stabilized apartment building and not a hotel.

    Instead of operating lawfully, he continuously operated in an illegal manner and asked to be rewarded for that misconduct to skirt the requirements of the Mello Act in order to unfairly gain economically at the expense of tenants in the Venice area, resulting in a significant cumulative adverse impact to the unique community character and residential rental market of the Venice Coastal Zone.

    Venice Character

    The only thing that happened after the fact here was the property owner’s application for change of use after years of illegal operation, and which he appears to have pursued only AFTER being cited by the City for health and safety conditions affecting the occupants of a building whose use is clearly documented for residential, long-term apartments, but which he knowingly presented in the marketplace as commercial, short-term vacation rentals.

    No competent attorney and real estate broker with decades of experience – particularly one who likes to do his own footwork with the City – would invest millions without performing the most basic due diligence – e.g., read the Certificate of Occupancy. Any assertion to the otherwise is not credible.

    Granted – this gentleman is an absolutely smooth talker (He certainly fooled “Karen W.”), and he may have won today’s battle. But the war is far from over.

    This type of land use leach connives and conjures complex and diabolical plots to suck residential housing out of communities and drive up YOUR cost of living. Do the math.

    Vagrancy has nothing to do with this scheme. Cheating, pure and simple, is the operative term.

    Karen Lehman

    “The proposed hotel reused an 85-year-old building and did not displace it with a lower-cost hotel. It displaced 30 residential units, which are a lower priority use under the Coastal Act and the Venice Land Use Plan. I don’t get this; why are residential units “low priority?” How do we change this?

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