How Santa Monica will enforce its Airbnb ban

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Santa Monica city officials will spend $410,000 in year one to create an enforcement department that will patrol short-term rentals in the city.

The council passed tough regulations on short-term rentals last week. The approved ordinance, which goes into effect in mid-June, prohibits property owners and residents from renting their places unless they stay in the unit with their guests. The city estimates this will ban about 1,400 — or 80 percent — of the listings on home-sharing on sites like Airbnb. 

Assistant planning director Salvador Valles said the city will hire three full-time staffers to review the online sites; to look at photos; and to identify unlawful rentals.

He says when it comes to enforcing rules around short-term rentals, these changes move the city toward a proactive approach rather remaining complaint-based. 

"We can issue citations just based on the advertisement alone when we're using our business regulations," he said. 

Violators could be fined up to $500. It won’t be easy to identify unlawful rentals though. Websites such as Airbnb don’t list addresses. So staff will look at photos and drive the city's streets trying to identify people who are breaking the law. 

Valles says the new department won’t be in full-on enforcement mode during the first few months. They expect that many people have already booked vacation rentals in Santa Monica, and they don’t want tourists to be forced to cancel last-minute.

Throughout the summer, Valles said, the new employees will educate those who aren’t in compliance.

"We will be looking to reach out to the community, reach out to those individuals who are currently listing to try and educate them about the law and try to work with them to get self-complaint," he said.

Santa Monica's new ordinance states that home-sharing platforms like Airbnb and VRBO will be responsible for disclosing the names, addresses, length of stay and price for each listing in the city. But Valles said he anticipates some push-back from the sites since other cities have been forced to subpoena Airbnb for the information.

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