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Follow the Money! Home-Sharing Ordinance would Legalize Hotels in Residential Neighborhoods

NEIGHBORHOODS RIGHTS--While short-term rentals help a few people make ends meet by renting their home to vacationing strangers, the protection of the safety, stability and character of our residential neighborhoods is being threatened by a misguided proposed Home-Sharing Ordinance. Furthermore, it is a disservice to the legal system and system of justice to pass a law that you know is going to be disobeyed – and not enforced! 

RIGHT TO TAKE ACTION--Thousands of illegal short-term rentals of 30 days or less that are strictly prohibited by existing law are being openly advertised and rented in Los Angeles every day. The lack of inspections, investigations, and prosecutions reflect the lack of resources and commitment to enforcement on the part of the Department of Planning, the Department of Building and Safety, and the City Attorney. There is nothing new in the Draft Ordinance that provides any enforcement process against a Host that refrains from registering. 

Under a similar law passed February 2015 in San Francisco, it is reported that only 1,647 Hosts had registered by March 2016 -- out of an estimated 9,000+ Hosts with listings on Airbnb, VRBO, HomeAway, and Flipkey. The only hope of containing this illegal activity is to afford neighbors and/or neighborhood homeowner associations the right to bring a civil action in Court for injunctive and monetary relief with the right to recover attorney fees and costs. And the private right of action should be based on the existing law in Los Angeles that completely prohibits short-term rentals -- not complicated by new issues proposed in the Ordinance that would be difficult to prove, such as whether a Host has resided at the property for at least 6 months or a limit on short-term rentals by a Host for no more than 90 days each calendar year. 

NO REASONABLE LIKELIHOOD OF ENFORCEMENT--The critical primary residence requirement is not capable of being disputed by the City and would be difficult even in a private right of action. What proof would the City Attorney require, and how would the proof be obtained, to show that a Host is not eligible to register because the property was rented out legally to four different persons for 60 days each during a calendar year? In addition, how would the concepts of “Host” and “Primary Residence” be made applicable to properties owned in the name of different limited liability companies organized in Nevada -- where no information is required about the ultimate owner? This is only one example of the impossible morass created by any attempt to regulate short-term rentals as opposed to the existing, clear, outright prohibition. 

Questionable Jurisdiction-Does the City have a legal opinion that it has the necessary legal jurisdiction over any Hosting Platform to be able to impose the requirements and impose the fines set forth in the Draft Ordinance? Is there jurisdiction if the Hosting Platform has no personnel, office, or assets in Los Angeles or even in California? It is delusional to expect that Airbnb will willingly help with enforcement. Time after time, they have testified before governing bodies throughout the country and refused to divulge any information about their Hosts. 

Hasn’t Airbnb asserted Federal law and the First Amendment as shields preventing them from being compelled to monitor and police their users, and from liability for content generated by users of their services? Is the City Attorney, who has not brought any cases against illegal Hosts, now ready, willing and able to take on the Hosting Platforms?

90 DATS TOO LENIENT-The prohibition on operating Home-Sharing for more than 90 days each calendar year is much too lenient. It would allow a constant stream of different strangers to occupy a home for 45 full weekends each year which is 87% of the year (assuming the 2 nights between Friday and Sunday equates to 2 days.) If an Ordinance is passed (which it should not be), the maximum permissible annoyance of neighbors should be 34 days, or 17 weekends per year which is 33% of the year. That would be both more reasonable and more enforceable. 

GUEST LIMIT--The provision in the Draft Ordinance limiting a rental to no more than one group of guests is not effective nor adequate. It would allow a 2 bed/2 bath house to be rented to a fraternity of 40 persons for a weekend, which should not be allowed. There should be a limit of 2 guests per available bedroom. 

SHORT-TERM RENTALS LIKE HOTELS--If the City is going to legalize what are, in effect, hotels in residential neighborhoods, the City should enforce the fire code, health, safety, insurance, and labor laws applicable to hotels. The rules should be the same - both for the protection of guests and to level the playing field out of fairness to competing businesses. 

New Ordinance is Not Necessary--The proposed Home-Sharing Ordinance is motivated by a desire of the City Council to collect hotel-type transient occupancy taxes, and by a situation caused by a complete failure of the City Attorney to enforce the prohibition against short-term rentals. Our residential neighborhoods were never intended to accommodate hotel-like environments with transient occupancy by strangers and the noise, parking, traffic, litter and other activities not usual and customary in a residential zone. 

The financial problems of a relatively few residents, and the financial problems of the City, must not be solved on the backs of homeowners who had a right to expect that the residential neighborhood in which they made a large home investment would not be commercialized in any manner. It is doubtful that the City leaders would be considering this Ordinance if the provision for tax revenue was not included -- as usual, follow the money. 

Threatening the destruction of the character and safety and cohesiveness of the single family neighborhood that has meant something since the beginning of urban zoning is not the answer. Enforce the existing law!

 

(Raymond Klein has been involved with land use and transportation issues for over 10 years on the Boards of the Brentwood Community Council and Brentwood Homeowners Association and is an occasional CityWatch contributor. Views expressed are his own.) Prepped for CityWatch by Llinda Abrams.