Los Angeles has proven itself to be fairly friendly to the app economy. It's agreed to share information with the traffic app company Waze, and it's probably going to let Uber start picking up passengers at LAX, despite some last-ditch efforts by the taxi industry.
Airbnb, on the other hand, is proving itself a far stickier wicket.
Next week, the Los Angeles City Council's Planning and Land Use Committee will hold the first hearing on a City Council motion to regulate short-term rentals in L.A. Currently, short-term rentals are illegal but widely available, the same sort of legal gray area utilized by the city's medical marijuana industry for more than a decade.
The new proposal would make short-term rentals legal, but only if the housing unit is the owner's primary residence.
In other words, you'd be able to short-term rent your couch, your back house or even your whole house if you're working out of town for four months. But you couldn't rent out your second house in Malibu, or a four-plex you own. Because you don't live in them.
It's no surprise that the motion is co-sponsored by City Councilman Mike Bonin, who represents Venice Beach. The hippie-filled seaside neighborhood, which not too long ago was a pretty sketchy place at night, is now one of the most desirable areas in the city, especially for tourists.
"There’s been a real uptick in tenants complaining about being evicted under false pretenses, so the owner can move to short-term rentals," says Amanda Seward, a tenants lawyer.
Elena Popp, the founder of the Eviction Defense Network, has seen the same trend all over the city — but especially in Venice.
"Venice is a nightmare," she says.
Everyone knows it's a bitch to find a place to live in Venice Beach. But there are more than 1,000 units for rent in Venice Beach on Airbnb. According to a study published by the Los Angeles Association for a New Economy (or LAANE) in March, that's more than any other neighborhood in Los Angeles, and it accounts for more than $13 million in revenue to owners — revenue that isn't taxed by the city like actual hotel revenue is.
According to Airbnb's website, the average Venice rental goes for under $200 a night — for a weeknight. Weekends average around $225. The most expensive places go for more than $1,000 nightly.
From a landlord's perspective, there's money to be made in the short-term rental game, whether using Airbnb or simply doing it the old-fashioned way, on Craigslist or a website of your own. And if a landlord's unit falls under the Los Angeles rent stabilization ordinance (meaning all apartment units built before 1978) landlords are prohibited from raising the rent above a certain amount, and these buildings can only be torn down or taken off the market in certain circumstances. For restricted rent-stabilized owners, the temptation to turn their buildings into unofficial hotels is even greater.
"People are being evicted, harassed, intimidated into leaving their homes," says Judith Goldman, a cofounder of Keep Neighborhoods First, a group that's fighting the spread of short-term rentals across L.A. "Conversion of buildings into short-term rentals in these destination neighborhood’s [like Venice] has become a tsunami."
Now, Goldman's group is fighting back, hiring a public relations person and a lobbyist.
Tomorrow, August 19, at the city's West Area Planning Commission meeting, they'll appeal a decision in which they claim tenants in Venice Beach were coerced into giving up their apartments, which were then turned into short-term rentals.
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Goldman says many apartment buildings in the area have been entirely transformed into unofficial hotels.
"These opportunistic owners are gaming the sharing economy to illegally convert affordable housing into hotels in disguise," she says. "This is not home sharing, this is home snatching."
David Graham-Caso, spokesman for Mike Bonin, says his office is aware of the situation, and the ordinance he co-authored is designed to address it.
"This really misuses the point of home sharing," says Graham-Caso. "Hotels are devastating [our] affordable housing. And we really can’t afford it in Venice."