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City Beat: Airbnb’s call for potential hosts turns up a wide range of takers

Airbnb host Julio Martinez

Julio Martinez, 77, of North Hollywood, enters one of two different spaces at his North Hollywood home that he lists on Airbnb. His guests have provided “a lot of interesting conversations,” he said.

(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

So who might you imagine would show up at a hip Hollywood restaurant for an evening meet-up about how to be an Airbnb host?

Aspiring actors hoping to cash in on their sleeper sofas? Flippers looking to make a killing on party houses?

Picture instead Pat Oliansky, 74, and Peter Barna, 81, who have extra space in their Laurel Canyon home. And Kevin and Susan Atkins, 64 and 59, who are thinking of renting out their Compton horse ranch.

Oliansky and Barna said they’ve liked staying at Airbnb-listed properties on their travels to London and Budapest, Hungary. The Atkinses, whose son has used the website for weekends in downtown L.A., think their property might lure fellow equestrians en route to Las Vegas rodeos.

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They came to the gathering at Madera Kitchen to ask questions. Among the hosts on hand to answer them was Julio Martinez, 77, dashing in a Panama hat.

He said he turned to hosting four years ago, after a serious illness put him in the hospital. The entertainment writer and radio host, who used to be a touring guitarist, said he had insurance but it hardly covered everything. And after the kids moved out, he and his wife had room in their North Hollywood home.

In two separate spaces they list as the “wee cabin” and “little house,” they did a little decorating and added single-serve coffee machines, microwaves and countertop electric ovens.

Martinez said they’ve put up artists and musicians and dancers, who sometimes practice their routines in the garden. He’s still in touch with a woman from Germany who dreams of opening an L.A. boutique. One “adventurous young lady from New Zealand” stopped in after a documentary-filming trip to Antarctica.

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“She had a blog, and she blogged about my dog Scout, because in the morning the dog would greet her and walk her to the gate,” Martinez said. “I sit out on my patio, and sometimes people join me. I’ve had a lot of interesting conversations.”

At 49, Pam Gore — who works in the music industry — said she covers her living expenses by renting out the only bedroom in her Hollywood apartment. She sleeps in a loft constructed in her living room.

Get an electronic front-door lock, she told Oliansky and Barna, so guests don’t leave with your keys. For good online reviews, she said, make sure the space is “hospital clean” when guests check in. Her place isn’t fancy but, except for a day off to clean between stays, she said she’s booked through the middle of March.

A woman who gave her name only as Rose said she wanted to try hosting as a “business opportunity but also a bit of adventure too.” She was so excited about the second part of that equation that she’d already bought guide books for her spare bedroom and canvassed her Hollywood neighborhood, asking businesses to extend her visitors special discounts.

Los Angeles still is working out how to regulate and tax the online short-term rental business, as affordable housing advocates cry out that it is taking much-needed shelter off the market. Bad stories about nightmare rentals tend to circulate rapidly.

Meanwhile Airbnb steadily extends its reach across the city.

The meet-up was one of several held locally last week. Invitations were emailed, posted on Airbnb and listed on an online event site.

“If you’ve ever thought about hosting on Airbnb to earn extra income, now is a great time to get started! With the L.A. Auto Show, awards season, and many fall events right around the corner, it’s a great time to host in LA!,” the invitation said.

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When they arrived, guests were given name tags — orange for active hosts, green for wannabes. Music played. The restaurant’s wide front door was open, and traffic roared by on Cahuenga Boulevard. The large windows offered a view of the top of the Capitol Records building.

After an hour or so of mingling while enjoying flatbread, ceviche and cocktails, the group of several dozen was welcomed by Airbnb’s Riccardo Ulivi. He showed them a video of an older San Francisco host, whose gorgeous garden property hides behind a plain door. She spoke of the joy of watching her guests talk over coffee in the morning. Often, she said, people who start as strangers end up venturing out into the city together.

“It’s a very personal experience for all of us,” she said. “This is just an extension of community.”

Airbnb has hosts in 190 countries, including Cuba, Ulivi told the group. His own parents host in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

He asked them to guess which was the fastest-growing market in terms of listings to date (Philadelphia), and why that was the case. (The pope’s visit.)

“Now we have over 60 million travelers from all over the world who are using Airbnb,” Ulivi said.

At his prompt, hosts called out where their last week’s visitors had come from. Australia, said one. “England today, Denmark the last few days,” said Gore.

“If you can’t go travel to India or to China or Thailand or Mexico, why not bring those cultures and experiences to your home?” Ulivi asked.

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A man who identified himself only as Stephen — for fear of backlash from his neighbors — said there have been rumblings in his Laurel Canyon area about too many Airbnb rentals. But he’s had a change in circumstances and needs extra money. Though he’s a professional, he’s even been doing some Uber driving for income.

He said that he’d rented out part of his home before, but the tenant stopped paying her rent and it was hard to get her to leave. Airbnb, he thought, might be a way to test the waters again — on his terms.

Then too, he’s an L.A. native who knows the city like the back of his hand.

“Do you think I could offer an orientation tour?” he asked one of the Airbnb staff members circulating around the room. “Could I say, ‘I’d like to show you around my city on your first day here?’ ”

nita.lelyveld@latimes.com

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