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Authorities crack down on illicit Hollywood Hills parties at short-term rentals

Short-term rentals in the Hollywood Hills have become party hot spots during the coronavirus lockdown.
(Charles Fleming / Los Angeles Times)

With nightclubs closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, short-term rental homes in the Hollywood Hills have become hot spots for illicit parties.

Now, the Los Angeles Police Department and city attorney are warning homeowners that they can be held criminally and civilly accountable for renters’ unruly parties.

The LAPD said it has responded to complaints about several parties in recent weeks. The biggest occurred May 16, when police arrived at a home to find 100 people partying. They then heard a gunshot and found a partygoer with an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound.

“Cabin fever has gotten to everyone,” said Sheila Irani, a member of the Hollywood United Neighborhood Council.

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Irani said people are flocking to the Hollywood Hills to party night and day. Many of the short-term rentals of large homes are going to visitors from out of town.

“By the time anything happens, they are up and gone,” she said. “We have houses here with 12 people floating in the pool all day.”

In the Lake Hollywood Estates, she said, one owner has been operating a four-bedroom house as a rental without the required registration for at least a month. Calls to the police, City Hall and the city attorney haven’t changed that.

“We tried to get them to wear a mask. They’re walking down our streets in crowds,” she said.

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Ralph Sanchez, LAPD’s senior lead officer for the area, has a message to people looking for a replacement for closed nightclubs: “Please don’t come up here to party.”

Capt. Steve Lurie said his Hollywood station last week received 49 calls about parties, 15% to 20% more than usual for a Memorial Day weekend.

“It is taking up a lot of officers’ time,” Lurie said.

LAPD Asst. Chief Robert Arcos said the department is doing its best to respond to party complaint calls at a time when officers are undertaking additional tasks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “As you know, we are stretching deployment to cover beaches and support all tiered openings,” he said.

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The Los Angeles city attorney’s office said homeowners with a history of renting to partyers will face more than a slap on the wrist.

“If police are called to the location of a party, there will be consequences,” said Ethan Weaver, the Hollywood-area prosecutor for the city attorney’s office. “The consequences can range from a citation up to criminal prosecution and six months in jail. Those consequences don’t just apply to the person throwing the party; it can apply to ... the homeowner. If your house has been cited for a party violation in the past, you as a property owner can be held responsible even if you are not present.”

Police say the party-house issue emerged a few years ago with the explosion of short-term rentals through services such as Airbnb.

Since Gov. Gavin Newsom and L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti in March instituted stay-at-home orders to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, the LAPD’s Hollywood Division has gotten a steady stream of complaints of loud parties, with music and voices echoing through the tight canyons and narrow hillside arteries at all hours of the night.

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Those complaints include jam-packed hillside parking, public intoxication and partygoers urinating outside people’s homes.

The issue came to a head May 16, when officers entered a raging party at a 4,000-square-foot luxury home in the 1400 block of Miller Drive, which had been rented for the weekend, and heard a gunshot. Josh Rubenstein, the LAPD communications director, said the investigation determined that there was gang activity at the party. Three guns were recovered from the scene, he said.

The house had been rented out for the party, Rubenstein said, and the owner of the property was seemingly unaware of the plan for its use.

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That home was not rented via the most popular short-term rental service, Airbnb. That company has cracked down on such violations since the pandemic, warning property owners that they will be forbidden from using the service if it is discovered they rented to people throwing parties.

Gatherings of any size are prohibited under the stay-at-home orders issued by L.A. County and the state.

Hollywood Hills party houses were a problem well before coronavirus.

In 2018, the City Council approved an ordinance proposed and championed by Councilman David Ryu, who represents the Hollywood Hills, that imposed fines on both party hosts and homeowners.

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Ryu is now looking at expanding the law to crack down on those who continue to flout the law and put others at risk.

“Party promoters turning homes into de facto nightclubs have been a problem for years. It’s why we passed the party-house ordinance in 2018. This has always been dangerous, but during a pandemic it is especially selfish and stupid,” Ryu said.

“This is no longer a standard-of-life issue; it’s a standard-of-health issue. Whether it’s by expanding the party-house law or stronger enforcement of physical distancing rules, we must crack down on these parties and hold party hosts and homeowners accountable.”


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