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Ventura County Following Santa Monica’s Lead During Short-term Rental Crisis

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

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

August 13, 2015 -- Living next door to a short-term vacation rental can be like dealing with a hard-partying night club, Santa Monica residents have complained.  Strangers are in and out, the noise is sleep-shattering and there's a sudden influx of traffic on normally quiet residential streets.

Similar complaints have been streaming into the offices of the Ventura County Board of Supervisors lately, echoing in almost all respects the situation that prompted the Santa Monica City Council this spring to crack down on the booming popularity of illegal short-term vacation rentals.

Santa Monica’s answer to the problem was to impose some of the nation’s most restrictive laws on such rentals.

Now Ventura County is taking a close look at the bayside city's measures in order to address the same problem. The Board of Supervisors voted on July 28 to order a study on the issue and requested that a public workshop be held within the next four months.  Santa Monica is one of the cities it will analyze.

Santa Monica's new ordinance makes clear that vacation rentals for less than 30 days are illegal, and that “home sharing” – renting out a room, for instance -- is allowed only if the host is present during the entire stay. It also requires a business permit and payment of the city’s 14 percent hotel tax. Violators could be fined up to $500 per day and face criminal prosecution.

City officials estimate the new law will impact about 1,400 of the 1,700 such short-term rentals in Santa Monica, which is a particularly popular destination for the website Airbnb, an industry giant. The City is slowly rolling out the restrictions and educating the public, before increasing enforcement.

Mayor Kevin McKeown said the crackdown is off to a good start.

“Already our ordinance has greatly increased public awareness of how many illegal vacation rentals were happening in Santa Monica,” McKeown said. “Remember, these were already against the law, and were unlicensed.”

Increased awareness of the problem, though, is leading to some new, unsettling discoveries, he said.

“I’m getting complaints also about longer term corporate rentals in what were supposed to be apartments for permanent residents, and those have been limited in Santa Monica since 2004.”

McKeown said the City is determined to correct a situation that not only led to resident complaints but undermined an already stressed housing market. Spreading the word of the new law, he said, is a vital first step.

 “As this underground economy is brought to light, awareness of the law and our commitment to return de facto hotel rooms to the housing market will be our first-line enforcement tool,” he said.

Ventura County First District Supervisor Steve Bennett said he was particularly impressed with Santa Monica’s ordinance and how it took into account the quality of life of the city's residents. Ventura County residents, he said, also are worried about the noise and congestion generated by short-term rentals.

“It’s like situating a hotel in a residential area,” Bennett said. “I like Santa Monica. It really tries to deal with the impact of that. It seems like it has the most appropriate safeguards.”

During Santa Monica's City Council hearings on the issue, those who rent out short-term vacation space argued that the extra money helped them make financial ends meet.

But critics – a collection of neighbors, housing activists and the union representing hotel employees –said that the practice was changing the nature of residential neighborhoods. That particularly hit home because Santa Monica has been trying to safeguard its residential enclaves, concentrating major new developments Downtown and along major streets near public transit, officials said.

Bennett said he also shares Santa Monica’s concerns that some residential properties are being snapped up for sole use as short-term rentals, eroding the amount of traditional housing available.

Ventura County needs regulations that both shore up the housing stock and protect residential neighborhoods, he said.  Owners of short-term rentals can’t just operate with the financial bottom line in mind, he added.

“The burden of proof needs to be on someone who wants to go into a residential neighborhood and operate a commercial business,” Bennett said.

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