Airbnb, short-term rental restrictions draw hundreds to LA council debate

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As one of the world's biggest short-term rental markets for Airbnb and other companies, Los Angeles wasn't going to institute new industry regulations without heavy blowback.

Hundreds on Tuesday filled Los Angeles City Council chambers to its 350-person capacity, leading police to direct an overflow crowd to City Hall's south lawn, where a microphone at a podium had been set up for speakers. 

The city's plan to allow rentals for only 180 days per short-term listing provided the chief bone of contention in its proposed regulations. City planners say the cap will address nuisance complaints about short-term rental guests as well as deter commercial landlords from turning apartments into lucrative Airbnb listings. The vast majority of hosts — 92 percent — rent for less than 180 days, according to the city. 

But none of the speakers at the council's Planning and Land Use Management Committee session liked the idea. A broad coalition of Airbnb critics, including neighborhood activists, renters' advocates, hotel executives and unionized hotel workers, backed a 90-day cap.

The hotel industry has been bankrolling a campaign against Airbnb, which has been eating into their business. Hotel industry executives complained that Airbnb isn't required to follow the same guidelines in areas like safety, disability access and health as they do.

Javier Cano, general manager of the J.W. Marriott hotel and Ritz Carlton downtown, said the industry opposed "people who are renting out multiple homes that are acting as de facto hotels."

Wearing cloud blue t-shirts, Airbnb hosts rejected the idea of any limits on rental days. Wyatt Valentine of Venice said he only rents out one home, his own, and a cap would significantly hurt his livelihood.

"We’re just decent people trying to survive," Valentine said. "I feel like we’re being punished for these other people that are investing, and having wild parties and converting apartments."

City planners said it would be difficult to enforce different rules for different types of short-term rentals. 

Noticeably absent from among the speakers were short-term rental operators with multiple listings. 

In what he called a first for the council's planning committee, Chair José Huizar took testimony by alternating between the group inside and the one outside. 

Huizar said officials would study the testimony and meet again on the regulations by late July or early August. The committee's recommendation on the proposed ordinance would be sent to the full council.

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