November 17, 2017 at 1:31 pm PST | by Michael Jortner
WeHo grapples with short-term rental regulations

Airbnb rooms and apartments for short-term rent is the subject of much discussion in LA County. West Hollywood City Council will chime in on the debate in December. (Photo Airbnb)

“Ridiculous,” Brad Keistler, a 75-year-old gay man who owns a multiunit property near the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood, said. He was referring to a proposed 90-day cap on the number of room nights allowed for hosted short-term rentals (STRs) now before the WeHo City Council.

As you may be aware, how the home-sharing economy is affecting communities across the nation is a huge political football right now. The City of Los Angeles is considering a revision to its policies and cities from Palm Springs to Pasadena to San Jose have all drafted different laws.

Keistler said home-sharing is “good for so many reasons.” He enjoys meeting people from all over the world, saying, “I live alone and like the company.” For him, a 90-day restriction on hosted STRs would be “too restrictive.”

Yet despite references to the proposed 90-day cap, in truth, it’s not the only option. WeHo’s limit could become 180 days or even remain at the current complete ban on any STRs under 31 days, whether hosted or not. Hosted means the property owner (in some cases tenant) remains on the property. Currently the city has no plans to revise the ban on non-hosted STRs.

If Keistler had his way, there wouldn’t be a ban. He sees no need for it. It should be said that he is a “super host” on Airbnb with a “98% approval rating.”

But “super,” or not, he’s not alone.

Loren Lewis, a former model, lives in a condo her son owns on Kings Road south of Santa Monica Boulevard. Up until WeHo’s 2015 ban on STRs, and her homeowners’ association also prohibiting them, she rented out her second bedroom often.

While she said “I love, love, love doing it” and that she’s “met wonderful people,” she also added: “I need the money.” Prior to the ban, Lewis, a divorcee receiving no alimony, earned up to $2,500 per month renting out her second bedroom, three times what she received from Social Security.

Describing the proposed 90-day cap as “very limiting,” Lewis prefers no cap at all for hosted STRs. A limit, she said, “makes it hard to survive.”

According to Airbnb, “25% of hosts use STR income to avoid eviction or foreclosure” and “50% use STR income as supplementation,” to pay everyday expenses, such as those for rent, a mortgage, food and transportation. Hosts in WeHo, they say, also “earn $9,000 in supplemental income every year.”

WeHo, no stranger to the challenges presented the gig and sharing economy, is an aging city of mostly LGBT residents — a majority are 50+ — and many Seniors are forced to find creative ways to supplement their income.

Juan M.  (who asked that his last name not be used) is 68 years old and HIV positive. “My income producing years were robbed from me because of the AIDS crisis. I have no savings and will have to work to the end of my life,” he said. “But I earn almost half my rent by hosting out of towners in my little spare bedroom through Airbnb. If the city restricts that I’m forced out,” Juan, a renter who also drives for Uber and Lyft, told the Los Angeles Blade. “I’m not some rich landlord warehousing entire buildings full of luxury apartments for rent on Airbnb,” he added.

Juan, whose home is very well appointed and meticulously clean, says he vets his guests and requires more than a few days stay. “I look at their social media and google their names before I agree to allowing them to stay.  And I usually restrict to month long stays or more.  Lots of traveling nurses and creative people come to LA like that,” he said.  He charges up to $70 per night and say it is “life changing money for me.”

WeHo’s City Council seems to be listening to hosts’ concerns, those outlining the monetary necessity of STRs, as well as those admitting they just rent out a room for personal satisfaction.

Still, opponents raise many objections. They point to noise, like loud music and partying, traffic congestion and losing the peace of mind of simply knowing one’s neighbors. As for non-hosted rentals, the biggest issue is the reduction of available long-term rental units driving up rents.

Keistler said he’s had “no complaints from neighbors, so doesn’t really get the concerns” about safety or strangers renting from him. “Tourists just come here to sleep. They are out all the time.”
He added that Airbnb is “self-regulating.” Hosts and renters post reviews online after a transaction and stressed how that can “go both ways.” In his view, this mechanism generally ensures a high-quality customer because the community decides.

As for traffic concerns, Lewis said most of her guests “use Uber” so they have no car. And regarding safety, she is “cautious” about whom she rents to. There are “verification processes in place” – hinting at Airbnb’s online process – but acknowledged “concerns are legitimate if nobody is on the property.”

The difference between hosted and non-hosted may be the line in the sand.

Three random WeHo residents – who are not part of the home-sharing economy with any online service – were asked for their perspective.

Rafael Bunuel, who owns a home on Rangely Ave. in the WeHo West area, says hosted STRs are OK because he trusts his neighbors. Not so with non-hosted. “Who do I call if there’s too much noise…the renters or the police?”

And Michael Rosenblatt, who rents one half of a duplex in the same area echoed that concern about non-hosted, saying, “Who is going to rent it?” For hosted, he’s fine with it because he knows his neighbor on the other side of his wall would address any problems from renters.   

“For all I know they may already be doing it,” a middle-aged co-owner of a four-unit property just north of Pavilions in WeHo said. Preferring to remain anonymous, he was referring to whether his neighbors rent out their homes or spare rooms for STRs.

For him, there is no correlation with issues like noise or safety. Based upon his experience living in various areas of LA, such concerns may be more of a problem with long-term renters.

“It’s not about renting short term,” he said, “it’s about the people.” In his view, people coming to WeHo for STRs are generally professionals in need of corporate housing, or tourists with high incomes, two demos he is not worried about.

How are other cities handling this issue? According to information provided by Airbnb, Pasadena “allows hosts to list up to two properties if they are both at the host’s primary residence” and San Jose “has no limits on hosted primary residence stays [and a] 180-day cap on un-hosted.”

Similarly, the City of Los Angeles, also now considering room night bans of various lengths, currently “allows a cap of 180 days per year on non-hosted and no restrictions on hosted,” as per Airbnb and confirmed by the Los Angeles Blade.

While Llano of Airbnb would not state what West Hollywood should do outright, she did ask rhetorically: “How can the city come up with a plan that would allow the most number of people to benefit from home-shares?”

 

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