Business & Economy

LA still can't decide how to regulate Airbnb

The Los Angeles City Council's planning committee is reviewing rules that Airbnb hosts be limited to renting their units 180 days a year.
The Los Angeles City Council's planning committee is reviewing rules that Airbnb hosts be limited to renting their units 180 days a year.

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Los Angeles is one of Airbnb's top markets, but the city has yet to pass industry regulations more than two years after proposing them, highlighting the challenging road to consensus on an issue that has divided many groups.

After taking testimony from more than 50 people on Tuesday, the City Council's Planning and Land Use Management Committee put off action on a proposal that would, among other things, cap rental days for listings advertised on online platforms like Airbnb to 180 days each.

Committee members, who raised their own concerns about the proposal, agreed to meet again in the coming weeks for further review. 

Airbnb hosts have shown up by the hundreds in a series of a public hearings the city's held on short-term rentals since last year. They've been met at each turn by members of the hotel industry, which views Airbnb as a rival and wants the proposed cap halved to 90 rental days. 

Opponents also include renters and housing advocates who blame Airbnb for taking units out of the long-term rental market as well as homeowners from some of L.A’s wealthiest neighborhoods.

Robin Greenberg, president of the neighborhood council for hilly Bel Air and Beverly Crest, worries an Airbnb guest could start a brush fire with a flick of a cigarette.

"We do not want out-of-town guests without proper knowledge to come into our neighborhoods," Greenberg told the council's planning panel. 

Planning Department tweet

Airbnb hosts, on the other hand, testified a cap on rental days would hurt their livelihoods, and reduce how much L.A. collects in so-called transient occupancy taxes. A report released Tuesday by the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. projects that Airbnb rentals will generate $39 million in taxes annually.

Noreen McClendon, an Airbnb supporter and head of Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles, said homeowners are making up excuses when they link Airbnb to brush fires or complain that some rentals are party houses. 

"Neighbors just don’t want people they don’t know in their neighborhood," McClendon said. 

As city officials hold off immediate action on new rules, the number of short-term rentals is growing rapidly. A city analysis shows their number have risen by 45 percent in the last 16 months to about 23,000 units. 

Less than half are used frequently enough as short-term rentals that they could be considered as losses to the long-term rental market. While these type of units account for less than 1 percent of the housing stock, city planning staff acknowledged the speed with which short-term rentals are multiplying, especially in neighborhoods popular with tourists.

 Those testifying on the short-term rental regulations fill the hallways of City Hall before the meeting

There is debate among council members themselves about how restrictive the regulations should be. Mitch Englander and Bob Blumenfield, both members of the council's planning panel, expressed interest in allowing Angelenos to rent out vacation homes.  As currently proposed, hosts can only rent out units in their primary residence. Englander suggested that secondary homes be charged a higher registration fee or "fall under a citywide cap."

Councilman Paul Koretz testified before the committee that allowing vacation home rentals would be a "mistake" but said if they are permitted, these units should be restricted to 90 rental days.

Meanwhile, both Koretz and Englander suggested that no limit on rental days was necessary for a listing in a host's primary residence.