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City Council halts short-term rental ban, agrees to work with residents

La Cañada City Council members decided Tuesday not to ban short-term rentals after residents described the many benefits to family finances and local businesses they've realized by listing properties on sites like Airbnb.
La Cañada City Council members decided Tuesday not to ban short-term rentals after residents described the many benefits to family finances and local businesses they’ve realized by listing properties on sites like Airbnb.
(John MacDougall / AFP/Getty Images
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An ordinance prohibiting La Cañada homeowners from renting out spare rooms and guest houses on websites like Airbnb and VRBO was halted Tuesday after residents shared with City Council members the benefits short-term rentals bring to the community.

Council members were asked to consider a full ban on the rental of any residential properties for a period less than 30 days. The ordinance was recommended by the city Planning Commission in a 4-0 vote during a Jan. 23 meeting.

Commissioners roundly agreed the practice of renting out guest homes to out-of-town visitors could negatively impact neighbors by bringing more noise, trash and traffic onto city streets. They also questioned whether the practice contributed to California’s housing crisis by keeping properties out of the long-term rental market.

The commission further considered two troublesome addresses — a Gould Avenue home that was the site of an illegal for-profit pool party last June and a home on Ivafern Lane whose guests inspired neighbors to call the sheriff’s department numerous times.

Under the ban, repeat offenders who rented properties for fewer than 30 days or advertised their properties for rent on a number of sites would be subject to escalating fines of up to $1,000.

But on Tuesday, residents who for years have engaged in the practice painted a decidedly different picture of short-term vacation rentals as a boon to local businesses and those strapped with large La Cañada mortgages and property tax bills.

Christopher Lastrapes and his wife purchased a home last year on Inverness Drive that came with a guest house suitable for accommodating frequent visits by their parents. Renting out the space to visitors in between visits, however, has directly benefited the family.

“It helps pay for our son go to a La Cañada preschool down the street, and it helps pay our property tax bill,” Lastrapes told council members. “A short-term ban on 30 days or less … this is a step too far, more of a knee-jerk reaction. There are common-sense solutions we can come up with.”

Several residents described renting to visiting grandparents, hospital patients in town for treatment, JPL researchers and families remodeling homes or looking to buy in La Cañada. Most limit visitors to two people and rent out for an average of four to five days.

Visitors who stay in town, they added, end up patronizing local retail businesses that have been struggling to keep customers at brick-and-mortar establishments.

La Cañada resident Will Moffitt described forming deep, longstanding friendships with visitors who’ve rented out a spare bedroom in their La Cañada Boulevard home in the past eight years. He and his wife have even been invited to weddings of former guests.

“Yes, we make some money, which helps us pay for the cable bill or taxes,” he said. “But we’ve had an experience meeting friendly, good people from around the world that has really opened our eyes to people.”

Council members recognized the potential benefits of “home sharing” but said they’d favor some regulation. Councilwoman Terry Walker wondered whether interested homeowners might form an association whose members could adhere to certain practices.

“I think there are some things we can do to alleviate some of the fears our citizens have that it’s going to be complete mayhem,” she said. “But I’m not in favor of passing this this evening — it needs a lot more research.”

Mayor Len Pieroni said he’d support forming a subcommittee to examine what other cities have done and what makes the most sense for La Cañada. Council members encouraged residents who came out to be a part of the process.

“I don’t understand the Airbnb world,” said Councilman Jon Curtis, “but I certainly think there’s some people out here who do.”

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