Councilman would embrace the practice but limit impacts on neighborhoods

By Gary Walker

The proliferation of homes and apartments being sublet to tourists for short-term vacation rentals is both an opportunity for economic growth and a threat to rental housing affordability in Los Angeles, according to a proposal for the city to tax and regulate such transactions.

As the popularity of vacation rentals has increased — particularly in and around Venice Beach, where Internet brokers such as Airbnb and VRBO (Vacation Rentals by owner) list hundreds of offerings at any given time — locals have pushed back with complaints about loss of parking spaces, late-night partying and having fewer permanent housing units on the market, driving up rents. Vacation rental rates in Venice typically range from $100 to $200 per day.

“Many people share or rent out their homes periodically to augment their incomes, or to give tourists the ability to live like locals, and we welcome that. But in some instances, neighborhood character is being threatened. Commercial ventures have purchased large numbers of rental units or even entire apartment buildings and converted them into de facto hotels, reducing and threatening the city’s stock of rental housing and affordable housing, and that is wrong,” wrote L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin and City Council President Herb Wesson in a Dec. 2 motion to regulate short-term vacation rentals.

The proposal, pending review by a council committee, calls creation of an ordinance to prevent dense concentrations of vacation rentals and to collect transit occupancy taxes equal to those paid by hotel operators. San Francisco and Portland have already adopted similar regulations.

Current Los Angeles zoning rules prohibit short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods but are rarely enforced.

“I think that there’s a lot of room for common ground on this,” Bonin said, adding that vacation rental brokers have been amenable to regulation.

“It’s great to see Los Angeles embrace home-sharing and innovation. L.A. is the creative capital of the world, and Councilman Bonin’s motion is a sensible step toward developing fair, progressive policies. Thousands of Angelenos have been able to pay their bills, stay in their homes and pursue their dreams thanks to Airbnb, and we look forward to working with everyone in L.A. as these rules move forward,” said Marie Aberger, a spokeswoman for Airbnb, the largest of the vacation rental websites.

Aberger said Airbnb is also on board with helping the city collect hotel taxes from users.

“We’ve begun collecting and remitting these taxes on behalf of our hosts and guests in Portland and San Francisco and will take the lessons we learn there and move forward,” she said.

The Los Angeles Short Term Rental Alliance, which maintains an office on Electric Avenue in Venice, also supports the Bonin-Wesson motion.

“We’re very happy to see it,” said Raine Phillips, the alliance’s coordinator. “No one wants to see [the practice] go underground. We want everyone to be out in the open. The more people that we educate about their responsibilities, the more they want to pay their taxes.”