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LA official looks to ban or regulate RV rentals for homeless

L.A. City Council Member Mitch Englander wants to ban the practice of renting out RV's to homeless people. "They're catching fire continually, they're not safe," he said. Rina Palta, KPCC

A Los Angeles City council member Wednesday proposed banning or regulating the practice of renting out vehicles for people to live in within city limits.

Council member Mitch Englander's motion cites KPCC reporting on the growing sub-economy of RV and van rentals for homeless people.

"They're not safe for the community, where you have sewage overspilling next to parks commercial zones and next to schools," said Englander. "Do we ban them, do we make it criminal, do we have rules and regulations? We've got to have the conversation."

Currently, there is little local police can do with rentals that present safety issues like sewage leaks and fire hazards, as well as unfair rental practices. The City of Los Angeles does not ban people from living in cars, though city rules dictate where such vehicles can be parked and for how long.

Tenants in rentals in Los Angeles, in some cases, told KPCC that renting a vehicle to live in was their only option after being priced out of the conventional housing market. 

Some advocates for homeless services were lukewarm on Englander's proposal.

"Until we build more permanent supportive housing and shelter, our homeless neighbors have nowhere to go," said Chris Ko, director of homeless initiatives for the United Way of Greater L.A. "We look forward to working with Councilmember Englander on building solutions that will resolve this unfortunate situation "

The median asking price for a rental in Los Angeles County is just shy of $2,500, according to The California Housing Partnership. The same organization estimated in May that L.A. County has a shortage of over 550,000 affordable homes for lower income renters. 

Englander said allowing a rental market for vehicles to flourish is not a tenable short-term solution. 

"We've got to stop these predators from taking advantage of our homeless population," he said. "They're catching fire continually, they're not safe."

The L.A. Fire Department said it does not keep specific numbers on inhabited vehicles catching on fire. Recently, a man died after the RV he and his wife were living in caught fire on L.A.'s West Side. The man had rushed inside to try to save his dogs. In that case, according to the fire department, the couple owned the RV themselves. 

Englander called the situation on the City of L.A.'s streets – which as of last count had an estimated 34,000 homeless people in tents, vehicles, and homeless shelters – a "crisis." 

Voters in the City of L.A. last November approved a $1.2 billion bond to build up to 10,000 units of housing for homeless people and low-income renters over the next decade. The County of L.A. has also devoted more resources to building the region's shelter capacity and affordable housing funds with revenue from Measure H. That 1/4 cent sales tax was passed by voters last March and kicked in October 1. Measure H is expected to raise up to $365 million annually for ten years.