L.A. City Hall moves to cap short-term vacation rentals at 180 days per year

By Gary Walker

Longtime Venice resident Ed Coleman says being able to
rent his guestroom to tourists has been “a real lifesaver”
Photo by Maria Martin

Those who favor L.A. City Hall stepping in to restrict the practice of short-term vacation rentals argue that renting housing to tourists for days at a time takes permanent rental housing off the market, making housing more expensive for locals — especially in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods such as Venice.

But for Edward Coleman, who has lived in Venice for 35 years, being able to host out-of-town visitors in his 560-square-foot guest room has been “a real life saver” — his sole source of income besides Social Security. Coleman, 65, was downsized from his job at a postproduction firm four years ago, and it’s been difficult to find work due to his age.

“I’m trying to create some kind of economic stability in an unstable world,” he said of offering a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen area, free Wi-Fi and a spacious patio on Naples Avenue over the online brokerage site Airbnb. “I would like to see unlimited home sharing by legitimate hosts who are just trying to pay their mortgage or send their kids to college.”

Coleman was among dozens of vacation rental operators and critics who gathered at L.A. City Hall on June 13 to speak out about a proposed city ordinance that would both limit short-term rentals to no more than 180 days per year, and prohibit them anywhere but a person’s primary residence — essentially outlawing the conversion of entire homes or apartment units into de-facto hotels.

Airbnb has been relatively supportive of Los Angeles’ proposed regulations, but not the 180-day ceiling.

“Placing limits on individuals who share their primary home — renters and owners — would impose an economic burden on thousands of Angelenos who rely on home sharing to make ends meet, and does little to address affordable housing concerns. More than 3,400 of our hosts reported using the income they earn from sharing their home to avoid foreclosure or eviction,” Airbnb Deputy Policy Manager Connie Llanos, formerly a spokeswoman for Mayor Eric Garcetti, told the Los Angeles City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee during its June meeting.

In Coleman’s words, “That would literally cut my [potential] income in half. If they leave it at 180 days, I might have to sell my home and leave Venice.”

L.A.’s draft ordinance, co-authored by L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin, would prohibit short-term rentals at units protected by the Rent Stabilization Ordinance and also require hosts to register with the city
and pay the same transient occupancy tax as mainstream hotel operators.

Venice community activist Judith Goldman, a proponent of vacation rental restrictions who heads the local advocacy group Keep Neighborhoods First, thinks the city is heading in the right direction.

“Although not perfect, this ordinance goes a long way toward reining in commercial short-term rentals and protecting true home-sharers,” she said. “This is a good framework that gives power back to the community, but still allows people to help make ends meet.”

By “commercial short-term rentals,” Goldman is referring to vacation rental units that would otherwise be available for long-term leases to permanent residents.

In Santa Monica it is already illegal to operate a short-term vacation rental out of anywhere other than the operator’s primary residence.

As the L.A. City Council grapples with regulatory policy, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer has been suing property owners accused of illegally converting long-term rental housing for residents into short-
term vacation rentals for tourists. That includes two Venice hoteliers specifically accused of violating the city’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance by converting entire apartment buildings into short-term vacation rentals.

Carl Lambert, who owns the 32-unit Venice Suites at 417 Ocean Front Walk, faces a civil court trial on July 26. On June 20, the Venice Neighborhood Council — many of whom Lambert, a past president of the Venice Chamber of Commerce, supported in their bids for office — voted to recommend granting a change of use to the property to officially re-zone the parcel to allow a hotel.

Feuer has also gone after the Venice Beach Suites & Hotel at 1305 Ocean Front Walk, with a ruling in the case expected on July 17, according to the City Attorney’s office. Owner Andy Layman has denied any wrongdoing, saying last year that the structure “was originally built in 1912 as hotel/apartments to serve the many visitors to Venice of America and remains as hotel/apartments today.”

The L.A. City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee is expected to vote on the vacation rentals ordinance as early as the end of July. If approved there, the ordinance would then go before the entire city council for a final vote.