California cities cracking down on summer rentals

David Milton, an artist living and working in Laguna Beach, says regular weekly turnover of neighbors’ renters and cleaning crews have disrupted the quiet enjoyment he is entitled to at his home.
David Milton, an artist living and working in Laguna Beach, says regular weekly turnover of neighbors’ renters and cleaning crews have disrupted the quiet enjoyment he is entitled to at his home. Special to The Bee

Millions flock to the Southern California coast each year, often renting a cottage or condo for a respite by the sea.

But the explosive growth of online travel booking sites in recent years has prompted several coastal cities to consider tightening regulations on those who rent out their homes for short stays.

While proponents of the short-term rental industry say the additional income often is vital to property owners’ livelihoods and the local economy, city leaders and neighbors want greater oversight to protect residential neighborhoods, tax revenue and the availability of housing amid a booming industry.

Santa Monica, Laguna Beach, Los Angeles, Manhattan Beach and West Hollywood are among the latest Southern California cities taking up the regulation of short-term rentals.

San Francisco has agreed to allow rentals under 30 days, but just created an office to enforce the city’s new policy. And New York is cracking down on illegal rentals.

These debates come as a state senator has proposed a bill that would require Web-based rental sites like San Francisco-based Airbnb to provide information about properties being rented to local governments.

But there has been pushback from Airbnb, its hosts and others in the short-term rental industry who say most renters are good neighbors whose dollars boost the economy.

“We are continuing to highlight the importance of fair rules with leaders throughout Southern California,” said Alison Schumer, Airbnb spokeswoman, in a written emailed statement.

The average age of an Airbnb guest in Santa Monica is 37 and “isolated anecdotes are rare,” Schumer said by email. She also cited an economic impact study that found 71 percent of hosts in Los Angeles use the income they make from Airbnb to stay in their homes and that Airbnb was responsible for generating $312 million to the Los Angeles economy.

Santa Monica’s new law fails to see the reality of the marketplace, said Robert St. Genis, director of operations for the Los Angeles Short Term Rental Alliance, a trade association that represents vacation rental property owners, managers and industry members.

“This is an opportunity to be capitalized,” said St. Genis, adding the group supports compliance with reasonable regulation requiring registration and fees. “The decision to drive it underground does not make sense.”

In Santa Monica, a city of about 8 square miles and 90,000 residents, city officials became concerned about investors buying up apartments – units that could be long-term rentals – for vacationing tourists, exacerbating an affordable housing shortage.

Santa Monica Mayor Kevin McKeown said he proposed the new regulations primarily to reclaim the city’s housing. The new rules, passed in May, ban rentals under 30 days unless the homeowner is present and has registered with the city. Additionally, the city will add two code enforcement officers and an administrative analyst who will track Internet activity related to short-term rentals in the city.

“It’s about preserving our neighborhoods and the ability of people to live here,” McKeown said.

But longtime Santa Monica resident Cara Brown says the council’s action does not consider her rights. She began renting out an apartment on a short-term basis in 2013 to help her family recover from the recession after closing their retail business. She called Santa Monica’s recent decision “an emotional blow” that will cost her about $24,000 a year.

“I’m a mom-and-pop operator,” Brown said. “I was always super careful about having good guests who are quiet.”

Nonetheless, neighbors in some cities are frustrated by the sudden appearance of a steady trail of noisy renters.

Laguna Beach resident David Milton said he became aware of a problem in his neighborhood about a year ago when he was awakened by loud music and laughter.

Then he began noticing regular weekly turnover and cleaning crews appearing on his street in between stays.

“No one has the right to disrupt the peaceful enjoyment of your property,” said Milton, an artist who works from home.

There is a fiscal incentive for cities to more closely monitor rental activity. Santa Monica’s law requires the collection of a 14 percent hotel tax.

The rapid growth of home-sharing requires legislation that “restores fairness” to local governments owed taxes, said state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg. McGuire is the primary author of state Senate Bill 593, which would require online booking sites to report to cities and counties the addresses, number of nights rented and amount paid.

The proposal has been put on hold, but McGuire plans to reintroduce the bill when lawmakers reconvene in January.

“Each city, each county needs the data to enforce the laws that they already have on the books,” McGuire said.

But bill opponents, including Airbnb and the advocacy group Consumer Watchdog, have cited concerns about violating users’ privacy. Schumer, the Airbnb spokeswoman, said in an emailed statement that lawmakers should find a way to “allow us to pay our fair share while enabling people to share their homes.”

Meanwhile, Brown said she will follow Santa Monica’s new regulations, while remaining a vocal opponent.

“It’s a complicated issue that needs complicated solutions,” she said.

Journalist Marisa Agha is based in Southern California.