City officials attempting to regulate short-term vacation rentals get an earful in Mar Vista

“I’ve counted no less than 24 separate rentals, with an average of two cars for three nights and four people over 87 days. That’s 96 guests, 72 days, 44 cars and 22 maid services to clean up after them. Four times the LAPD was called by me and my neighbors to demand they cease noisemaking and demand that they stop smoking outside on the home’s balcony until 4 a.m. Last week I was awoken again only to discover that one young man and woman from the home were actually sitting on my front doorstep smoking cigarettes and speaking to someone
on the phone.”
— Brian Wald, Silver Strand

 

“I’ve had nothing but the nicest young people come stay with me. Recently I had two young girls from Chicago who are trying to relocate to L.A., and it’s providing them with traditional housing before they can get an apartment. I think [Airbnb] is a wonderful alternative to a high-priced hotel room on the Westside.”
— Rebecca Eliason, Mar Vista

 

“Without renting rooms in my home, I would not be able to send my daughter to college when she’s ready to go. The financial assistance has been crucial for my daughter and me.”
— Patrick Healy, Mar Vista

 

“Over the past three years I’ve been able to supplement my [single] income as an Airbnb host. In addition, because of Airbnb hosting my two children are meeting people from all over the world. It is crucial to point out that the [people] who travel this way are a new market of travelers. This is a class of people who would not normally be able to travel due to the high cost.”
— Angela Aaron, Venice

 

“I live next to and have experienced a fraternity party, screaming wedding guests, loud music and a nude photo shoot. The owner of the home is an absentee. We’re not Cancún or Vegas, and we don’t deserve to live like this. Owners living on their property renting a spare room or a guest house should be allowed to home-share; absentee owners should not.”
 — David Dufay, Venice Canals

 

“The short-term rental next door to my home is operated as an oceanfront resort hotel. Their guests are understandably in holiday mode 24 hours a day, seven days a week, six feet from my windows.  I feel [as though] I am an involuntary guest of this hotel.”
— William Ballough, Playa del Rey

 

“I have to say, because of Airbnb, we are one of the nicest houses in our neighborhood. We maintain the exterior of our house to make it a pleasant place for guests who want to stay with us. It increases the value of our home.”
— Tara McColeman, Del Rey

By Gary Walker

 
For those earning extra income by renting out a room, it’s a godsend.

For those living next to nonstop keg parties lining an absentee landlord’s pockets, there goes the neighborhood.

The challenge of balancing homeowners’ rights with those of their neighbors as short-term vacation rentals proliferate throughout the Westside was on full display last week in Mar Vista, where Los Angeles city officials were soliciting feedback to inform a pending regulatory effort.

More than 350 people packed the Mar Vista Recreation Center on Sept. 29 to tell local planning officials stories (including many of those above) about their experiences either operating or living next to short-term vacation rentals.

Taken altogether, the thousands of short-term vacation rentals offered in Westside neighborhoods through online broker sites such as Airbnb have become
a largely unregulated temporary housing submarket.

Detractors say the practice takes long-term rental housing off the market, driving up rents and forcing residents to compete with tourist dollars by turning residential housing units into de facto hotel rooms.

If considered hotel rooms, L.A. zoning rules would technically prohibit short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods, but so far such rules have gone largely unenforced.

Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin, who represents the Westside, and Council President Herb Wesson are pushing for a new city ordinance that would officially recognize short-term rentals but create a legal framework to regulate and tax them.

The challenge lies in creating legal definitions that distinguish between a fixed-income senior renting out a room
on weekends and an investor converting an apartment building into a hotel.

“For me, one of the most important aspects is distinguishing between the ‘bad’ short term rentals and the ‘good’ short-term rentals,” said Bonin.

Asked to clarify, Bonin puts “de facto hotels that are taking affordable housing off the market, investors and speculators” in the first category, and residents who are engaged in “genuine home-sharing” through renting their home or a spare room on a temporary basis in the latter.

Under the ordinance proposed by Bonin and Wesson, those who conduct short-term rentals would be required to pay the same transit occupancy tax paid by hotels and would be prohibited from renting units or buildings that are not also their primary residence.

Bonin said he hopes to have a draft ordinance by early next month.

Melissa Williams, sales manager at the Hotel Erwin in Venice, said there were as many as 1,400 short-term rentals drawing potential customers away from local hotels that provide workers with stable jobs with health insurance benefits.

“This is a 911 call for the council to enact clear, strong enforcement and regulations for legal short-term rentals,” she said. “This affects our ability to grow and impacts our employees greatly. Despite what many say, most home-sharing units around us are not truly sharing units — they are entire apartment buildings.”

Mar Vista community activist Sherri Akers said she’s in favor of rules that would prevent short-term rentals from eroding housing stock in high-demand neighborhoods but still allow homeowners to earn a little extra money on the side by opening their primary residences to tourists.

“I see this as an important consideration for our seniors as they try to age in place,” Akers said.

Keeping affordable housing units out of the hands of short-term rental operators is crucial, Bonin said.

A study published in March by the labor-affiliated Los Angeles Alliance for New Economy concludes that affordable housing is being lost to home-sharing sites such as Home Away and Airbnb. The report states that short-term vacation rental listings are “dominated by commercial operations and were exacerbating the lack of affordable rental units in L.A.’s already tight housing market.”

Roy Samaan, the author of the report, said those impacts have extended beyond beachside hotspots such as Venice and Playa del Rey.

“In Mar Vista, the number of short-term rentals advertised increased by nearly 60% between October 2014 and July 2015. Building a path out of the housing crisis in L.A. is doomed to fail if commercial short-term rental growth continues to undermine new housing construction at these rates,” Samaan said.

Airbnb counters Samaan’s study with research they conducted with members of UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Policy. According to that report, less than 1% of all housing units in L.A. are rented for more than 177 days on a short-term basis through Airbnb. Citing an essentially unchanged housing vacancy rate from 2005 to 2013, the report concludes that Airbnb has had “no material impact” on the overall housing market in L.A.

People on both sides of the short-term rentals issue have expressed potential support for city rules that would mainstream and regulate the practice.

“Home sharing allows people to turn what is typically one of their greatest expenses into a tool to help make ends meet. Almost half of Airbnb hosts in Los Angeles work in the arts, entertainment and recreation industries. This proposal demonstrates L.A. is embracing home-sharing and the peer economy,” Airbnb spokeswoman Alison Schumer said.

The Los Angeles Short Term Rental Alliance has also expressed preliminary support for short-term rental regulations.

gary@argonautnews.com