LA councilmembers push to regulate Airbnb

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Los Angeles city officials are proposing new regulations on Airbnb and other home-sharing sites that would curb the amount of business the industry does in the country's second-largest city.

The proposal introduced Tuesday by Councilmember Mike Bonin and Council President Herb Wesson would ban hosts from renting out properties other than their primary residence, or any apartments protected under the city's rent stabilization ordinance.

How many listings this would affect is not clear. But Airbnb says that more than 80 percent of its rental properties in L.A. are primary residences. That would leave roughly a fifth of its listings that are not owner-occupied. A spokeswoman from Airbnb said it does not track which units are under rent control.

Bonin, who represents Venice and Playa del Rey, said he is an Airbnb user himself, and welcomes the homesharing economy. What he opposes is 'homestealing.'

"By 'homestealing' I mean a sort of syndicate of speculators who are coming into the community, particularly Venice, and buying entire apartment buildings and homes they have no intention of living in and turning them into de facto hotels," Bonin told KPCC.   

Bonin said this practice takes precious rental housing off the market at a time when the city needs affordable homes the most, while also changing the character of neighborhoods for the worse.

New York and San Francisco already have strict regulations that limit who can rent out units on a short-term basis.

The proposal in L.A. would also create a system of collecting a lodging fee known as the transit occupancy tax, though it does not specify how. Hosts are already required to pay the tax, but Bonin said that "some do, and some don’t. It's an ad hoc and spotty system." 

Other cities such as Portland, San Francisco and San Jose have set up tax agreements with Airbnb, under which the site charges users the tax at checkout, and passes the tax to the cities in a monthly-lump sum.

Asked about the L.A. proposal, Airbnb struck an optimistic tone. David Owen, the company's regional head of public policy, said that the L.A. proposal actually demonstrates that the city is "embracing" homesharing and the peer-to-peer economy. 

"We're hopeful that folks move foward with clear and fair rules that make it simple for people to share their homes," Owen said.

L.A. is the latest in a string of southern California communities to take up restrictions on home-sharing sites.

Last month, Santa Monica approved some of the toughest regulations ever on short-term rentals. The city passed an ordinance that prohibits hosts from renting out homes if they are not on the premises.

Bonin says his measure offers a little more flexibility than Santa Monica's: Hosts would be able to rent out their primary residence even if they are not present.  

"In Venice, I have some folks who work in the film industry and they may be on location out of state or out of the country for three, four months," Bonin said. "This would allow them to still rent out their (primary residence) while they're gone.

Owen said the L.A. conversation about the homesharing economy has been different than in Santa Monica.

"The process in Santa Monica was very quick. It almost frankly felt rushed," Owen said. "It looks like the L.A. City Council is taking a much more thoughtful, and comprehensive approach to adopting regulations."

The proposal will go before the Planning and Land Use Management Committee for a hearing.

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