Santa Monica comes down hard on Airbnb; will crackdown spread?

Santa Monica's City Council voted quickly and unanimously Tuesday night to enact some of the nation's strictest regulations on the booming short-term rental industry.

The measure, targeting Airbnb and other tourist rental websites, explicitly bars renting units for fewer than 30 days. The measure legalizes home-sharing – the rental of a couch or spare bedroom, for instance – as long as the host registers with the city and pays taxes.

The vote was preceded by a rally of more than 100 short-term rental hosts and supporters outside Santa Monica City Hall on Tuesday afternoon.

At the event, several Santa Monica residents said short-term rental sites have helped them afford to continue living in the pricey beach city by renting out their house when they travel.

“It’s such a blessing for us,” said Arlene Rosenblatt, a retired teacher who frequently rents her apartment while visiting her children and grandchildren. “We need to have these regulations changed.”

The protests had little effect on council members, who approved the measure in less than a minute, unanimously and with no debate.

Two weeks ago, several members said they wanted to make room for “true” home-sharing, while preventing landlords from taking apartments off the regular housing market to rent them full-time to tourists.

Those tourist units account for about 1,400 of 1,700 short-term rentals advertised on three major websites, according to a city report.

While short-term rentals have long been technically illegal in most of Santa Monica, those rules have been lightly enforced. Now the city plans to establish strict penalties. The ordinance takes effect in 30 days.

Supporters of the bill – a coalition of housing advocates, neighborhood groups and hotel workers – came out in force for the public hearing two weeks ago but were sparse Tuesday night. A spokeswoman for a hotel workers union, Unite Here Local 11, had no immediate comment on the vote.

Other Southland cities, including Malibu and West Hollywood, have also recently tightened rules on short-term rentals in reaction to the rapid growth of online sites such as Airbnb, which connects hosts with renters.

Los Angeles officials are considering new regulations as well, and short-term rental advocates fear that Santa Monica's action may lead to a broader crackdown.

“That is one of our tremendous fears,” said Robert St. Genis, spokesman for the Los Angeles Short-Term Rental Alliance, a network of vacation-rental property managers. “We don’t want to see this end up in Pasadena, Manhattan Beach, you name it.”

Airbnb has also been monitoring the bill closely and invited dozens of their hosts to the protests Tuesday.

“The proposal fails to provide clear, fair rules for home-sharing,” the company said in a statement. “We will continue to highlight the importance of fair rules with leaders in Santa Monica and throughout Southern California.”

Keep an eye on housing and real estate in Southern California. Follow me on Twitter at @bytimlogan

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