At valley forum, LA City Council candidates say tax Airbnb rentals

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In a forum in Van Nuys held by a group of democratic clubs, 10 of 14 candidates vying for a Los Angeles city council seat discussed the growing use of Airbnb in their district - and many said it ought to be taxed.

The candidates, who are competing to replace termed-out councilman Tom LaBonge in the 4th district, said too many of L.A.’s single family homes have been turned into short-term rentals. That takes those properties off the market for L.A. residents, which leads to an even smaller inventory of homes, and soaring rents. 

"Airbnb is a short term temporary stay, very similar to what hotels are doing, so I think you have to treat them the way they are acting, which is essentially, a hotel," said candidate Steve Veras, a community college trustee.

Veras said the Airbnb website displays pages of listings in Silver Lake and other neighborhoods in the 4th district.

He said property owners are finding they can make more money renting their homes through Airbnb year round, as opposed to leasing them to one renter for a year or longer.

He said this is changing the character of neighborhoods in Los Angeles, pushing out middle-class residents, and creating parking problems.

Other candidates agreed the city needed to intervene.

"We need to charge a 14 percent tax just as the hotels charge," said candidate Sheila Irani, a businesswoman who worked on special projects for LaBonge from 2011-2013. "We also have to limit the number of days (properties) can be converted into an Airbnb on an annual basis."

Irani also said people who rent their properties out on Airbnb should have to inform their neighbors. She also thinks the city could create more affordable housing units by selling city-owned land to developers at a discount in exchange on the condition they build affordable housing.

Along with affordability, candidates were also quizzed on environmental policy and LGBT rights during the forum in Van Nuys, which lasted three hours. The primary election is March 3. Unless one candidate wins a majority of the votes, the top two vote-getters will compete in May.

The questions were posed by representatives from Americans for Democratic Action, the Stonewell Democratic Club, and the Coalition for Economic Survival.

Candidates were asked if they would support a $15-per-hour minimum wage in the city.

Several stopped short of $15, and said they support the mayor's $13.25 minimum wage phased in over several years.

Other candidates said higher wages would put a squeeze on small businesses, and would bring higher costs to consumers.

A few said the city shouldn't pass its own minimum wage because it would drive businesses out of Los Angeles, and into nearby cities.

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