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Santa Monica Activists Urge City to Crack Down on Illegal Short-Term Rentals

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

April 29, 2015 -- Community activists representing Santa Monica renters and the union for local hotel workers gathered in front of City Hall Tuesday afternoon to urge the City Council to put a stop to the proliferation of short-term vacation rentals, saying the popular practice is squeezing renters out of the housing market.

The demonstration and news conference came hours before the City Council was scheduled to take up an ordinance tightening controls on rental units advertised on such popular websites as Airbnb. the protest was attended by a crowd of union workers and others carrying signs reading “Protect Affordable Housing” and “UNFairbnb.”

“Give residential units back to residents,” Jennifer Kennedy, a leader of Santa Monicans for Renters’Rights, said at the news conference. “I've seen buildings in my neighborhood advertised as vacation rentals. But Santa Monica’s existing rental housing is not for meeting the needs of vacationers.

"We have hotels and motels for that and a vibrant downtown with visitor services," said Kennedy, a member of the City's Planning Commission. "Continuing to let illegal vacation rentals happen will only worsen the housing market not just here but in the county. The City's priority is to keep our residential neighborhoods residential.”

City officials estimate there are about 1,700 such short-term rentals in the city, a number that has worries officials facing an already tight rental market.

Neighbors, meanwhile, complain about noise and traffic generated by those renting the units on a short-term basis. They also say the units bring strangers into their otherwise quiet neighborhoods increasing worries of potential crimes.

Celia Talavera, who has worked at Santa Monica’s Loews Hotel for 16 years, said she wished she could live in the city, instead of having to commute from Inglewood. But lately she hears about all “the companies that are taking away entire apartment buildings.”

“Listen to the voice of the community,” said Talavera, a member of Unite Here, Local 11, which represents hospitality and restaurant workers.

“We call upon the council members to meet their responsibilities and pass the ordinance before them,” said Andrew Moss, a retired educator and lay member of Clergy and Laity United For Economic Justice, or CLUE-Santa Monica.

The event came as the City Council was poised to consider guidelines allowing “home sharing” rentals only when the hosts were residing in the short-term rental. The occupant renting the unit must also have filed for a city business license and pay the city’s 14 percent hotel tax.

It would also be required for such websites as Airbnb -- the most popular in Santa Monica -– to report who is acting as host and where and how much they are charging.

Supporters of short-term rentals say they are a legitimate way for residents to earn a little extra money. Critics contend the practice is being taken over by big landlords who are taking units off the market and re-renting them as lucrative de-facto hotels.

The critics at Tuesday’s event released a report based on Airbnb data that showed Santa Monica is generating about 12 percent, or $9.6 million, of its revenue from the Los Angeles area.

Researchers for the labor-backed Los Angeles Alliance for New Economy (LAANE) found at least 643 different listing agents operating Airbnb rentals in the city, for a total of at least 827 Airbnb listings. It found 70 percent of the rentals were of entire units, as opposed to single bedrooms or other space in a rental.

Based on that data, the report estimated there were between 575 and 1,190 whole units in the Santa Monica’s short term rental market.

It also said researchers had uncovered evidence of whole buildings operated as de-factor hotels. It listed a property called Palisades Beach road which had 16 units listed for rent via Airbnb at 1401 Ocean Front Walk.

“The company appears to have subdivided that home into several studios and 1-bedrooms,” the report said.

The highest concentration of short-term rentals via Airbnb was found in the neighborhoods between Wilshire and Montana, around the Santa Monica Pier and in South Santa Monica, west Lincoln and south of Pico.

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