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L.A. lawmakers back new regulations on Airbnb and similar rentals

L.A. lawmakers back new regulations on Airbnb and similar rentals
Genesis Diaz, 24, of South Los Angeles stands with others concerned about the effects of short-term rentals during a City Council committee meeting Tuesday at City Hall. (Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles lawmakers tentatively backed new rules Tuesday that would bar Angelenos from renting out a house or apartment to night-to-night guests if it is not their primary residence, a rule meant to prevent homes from being turned into "de facto hotels."

The draft regulations would also cap such rentals at 120 days annually. But hosts could get city permission to exceed that cap if they do not have multiple or outstanding citations from city departments.

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Even if they have gotten such citations, hosts would still have a chance to go through a more rigorous process and make their case to the planning department, which could hold a hearing to decide whether lifting the annual cap would help or harm the community.

City Councilman Jose Huizar said the goal was to help good, neighborly hosts and "flush out the bad operators who are simply using these homes for investment properties."

The proposed rules, which were backed Tuesday by a council committee, still must be approved by the entire council. The draft regulations will also head back to the Planning Commission, whose members are appointed by Mayor Eric Garcetti, for another round of review before the council can give them final approval, city officials said Tuesday.

L.A. lawmakers first proposed regulating short-term rentals nearly three years ago, seeking to regulate a practice that has boomed with the rise of online platforms such as Airbnb.

Airbnb and its hosts say such rentals provide an economic lifeline to Angelenos and pump tourist spending into new neighborhoods across the city. But housing advocates, neighborhood activists and the hotel industry argue that without enforceable regulations, such night-to-night rentals have disrupted neighborhoods and exacerbated the housing crisis for poor renters.

Housing and neighborhood activists argued that Los Angeles should impose a cap of 90 days annually to discourage housing from being turned over to tourists who can pay higher rates.

Among the hundreds of people who crowded the Tuesday hearing was Kendall Mayhew, who said she had been evicted last year and her former apartment was now being rented out on Airbnb.

Mayhew told council members that her new home costs $600 more per month, forcing her and her partner to spend half their income on rent. "We have to protect people's need to have housing before people's need to have a business," Mayhew said.

Some critics have also challenged the idea of allowing hosts to exceed the annual cap: In a letter to lawmakers, Brentwood attorney Raymond Klein argued that the city needed to prepare an environmental impact report to look at negative effects on housing stock, noise and traffic in residential areas that could be turned into commercial zones of "mini-hotels."

Airbnb representatives and hosts, in turn, argued that the city should not make it excessively complicated and costly to get city permission to exceed the annual cap. Some argued that the draft rules would force them out of their homes or throw them into financial peril.

Peggy Sturdivant, a 64-year-old retiree who lives in the Leimert Park area, said that renting out a spare bedroom to out-of-towners coming for Rams games or USC graduations had helped her cover her mortgage. She cannot take on a tenant in that bedroom, Sturdivant said, because her elderly mother comes and stays with her from time to time.

Under the proposed rules, she would have to cut back on how often she rents out that bedroom or pay fees to get city permission to exceed the cap. City officials say those exact fees are still being determined, but at one point estimated they could exceed $1,100, or run as high as $5,660 for the more exhaustive process.

"It would really hurt," Sturdivant said. "This is a way to try and make it."

The proposed rules have also alarmed people who rent out something other than their primary residence — such as a vacation home — for short stays.

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Philip Minardi, director of policy communications for the vacation rental platform HomeAway, said the restrictions would be "disastrous" for people who rely on such rentals for income, visitors and local businesses.

Before the Tuesday hearing, planning officials had suggested allowing neighbors to weigh in on whether a rental host could exceed the 120-day cap. If neighbors balked, the city would make the hosts go through a more exhaustive process before deciding whether to let them go over the limit. Hosts had argued against that, saying neighbors might make arbitrary or discriminatory decisions.

During the meeting, Huizar moved to eliminate that requirement, saying that neighbors would simply be notified. That troubled Councilman Bob Blumenfield, who argued that neighbors should have more say in whether a host can rent out their home to travelers for most of the year.

"It's too much like having no cap at all," Blumenfield said Tuesday.

Blumenfield unsuccessfully proposed an alternative plan, in which the city would require a rental host seeking to exceed the annual cap to go through the more rigorous process if a majority of their neighbors objected to the idea. No one else on the committee backed it.

Planning officials have long said that renting out apartments or houses for fewer than 30 days at a time is illegal in many residential areas, but the city has rarely enforced those restrictions.

Last month, the city attorney lost a battle with a businessman who was accused of running an "illegal hotel" in Venice Beach, when a judge ruled that nothing in city codes prohibited him from renting out apartments at his building for short stays. Tenant activists argued that the decision underscored the need for the city to swiftly adopt new rules to protect housing.

Under the proposed regulations, Angelenos cannot offer an apartment for short stays if it is covered by rent stabilization rules or an affordable housing covenant.

Hosts would be required to register with the city or face fines of at least $500 a day for advertising an illegal rental. And Airbnb and similar platforms could also be fined $1,000 daily for illegal listings or for refusing to hand over the addresses of unregistered rentals.

Twitter: @AlpertReyes

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