Opinion: Short-term rentals in my Silver Lake neighborhood are causing ‘rentrification’
On Nov. 1 new regulations restricting short-term residential property rentals will take effect in Los Angeles. I don’t know whether the rules will help end homelessness or slow the process of gentrification, but I believe they will stop the onslaught of what I call “rentrification.”
The regulations will limit homeowners to 120 days a year of short-term rentals on their properties, and limit those rentals to property occupied by the owner. Second homes and vacation homes can no longer be offered on Airbnb, VRBO and other sites for short-term rentals.
After witnessing multiple waves of gentrification around my home in Silver Lake, I’m all for the changes. Over the last few years, I’ve seen increasing numbers of houses purchased by people who don’t intend to live in them — or rent them to long-term tenants. Instead, they rent them for a few days or a week or a month to tourists. The tenants don’t work here, or vote here, or send their kids to school here. They have no stake in the neighborhood.
I asked broker David Melford of Compass Real Estate whether he’s seen a trend toward short-term rentals in the area. He provided title company data showing that in 2015 39% of the 303 properties sold in Silver Lake were not intended as primary residences for their new owners. In 2018, 396 homes were sold, with 60% not intended to be primary residences.
My wife and I bought our first house in 1988 in the then decidedly unfashionable “Baja Silver Lake” area, on a dodgy street where break-ins and hold-ups were common. We moved north of Sunset to a new house on a safer block a few years later.
We could see the community changing in good ways and bad. The commercial district along Sunset Boulevard was revitalized, with new restaurants and shops, but longtime residents were being priced out of the market. Many of the middle-class Mexican, Japanese, Chinese and Philippine families who had anchored the neighborhood moved out during the late 1980s and early 1990s, and those who moved in were more likely to be white and higher-income.
The new occupants lived differently from the families who were leaving. Folks who drove their Toyotas and Hondas to work as teachers, nurses or small-business owners were replaced by screenwriters and studio musicians who drove Volvos and Subarus. Many of the incoming parents enrolled their children at private schools like Oakwood or Sequoya rather than at the local public schools, Micheltorena and Ivanhoe. We might bump into them perusing artisanal loaves at the Saturday farmers’ market, but we didn’t see them buying medianoche sandwiches at Café Tropical or burritos at Tacos Delta for picnics at Bellevue Park.
The next wave of home buyers, in the early 2000s, amplified the trend. The driveways of Silver Lake began sprouting Range Rovers and, later, Teslas driven by film and TV producers, tech entrepreneurs and actors. They didn’t work in the neighborhood, and they didn’t send their kids to local schools, but at least they wanted to live here.
Then, a couple of years ago, I began to notice a new influx. They arrived in Ubers and Lyfts, dragging suitcases. They tended to smoke a lot of weed, play loud music and leave craft beer bottles and cigarette butts on the street in front of their short-term rentals.
Two of our neighbors began renting out space in their homes, bringing visitors who seemed not to know the rules. (No, you can’t park there. No, you don’t put your take-home containers from Sqirl and LA Mill in the green trash barrels.) Other neighbors began to complain about houses that had turned into full-time party pads, attracting a stream of people hosting gatherings that went on late into the night.
Now the stream is a flood. The Airbnb page for Silver Lake lists more than 300 rental options in its “Entire Homes” category alone. About 30 of them are within a block or two of my house. VRBO lists 437 rentals in Silver Lake, including houses, guest houses and rooms within houses.
The shift has changed life in Silver Lake. People buying homes or looking for long-term leases are likelier to take an interest in the condition of the local schools, parks, libraries and other public services. They are likelier to maintain their properties well, and to notice and report suspicious or criminal behavior on their streets.
The short-term renters are pushing those stakeholders out. “They are removing housing from the market, at a time when we desperately need more housing. They’re changing the whole feeling of the community,” said Barbara Ringuette of the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council.
I am against legislation that takes money out of the pockets of my neighbors, some of whom are retired, elderly or otherwise struggling to keep up with the rising costs of living in our increasingly hip neighborhood.
And I’m all for people who see the value in our area and want to own rental properties here. My wife and I rent out a house we inherited from her parents in the neighborhood, and we’ve had the same tenants for six years.
I’m less eager to see an increase in the population of folks just stopping by long enough to take a Silver Lake selfie. I remember from my youth there were businesses that catered specifically to such travelers. They were called hotels and motels, and I think they still provide that service.
Charles Fleming writes about cars and motorcycles for The Times and is the author of the urban hiking guides “Secret Stairs” and “Secret Walks.”
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