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Airbnb in LA: Should rental days be capped?

As Los Angeles moves closer to finalizing new regulations for short-term rentals, a major dispute has emerged: how many rental days should a property be allowed?

City officials say a 180-day limit will discourage companies from taking apartments off L.A.’s tight housing market and turning them into short-term rentals. 

Home-sharing giant Airbnb, on the other hand, says a cap would hurt the earning potential of hosts who are not investors and depend on the rentals to stay afloat financially.

Lastly, some advocates of affordable housing say a cap of 90 days or less would better discourage landlords from moving units off the long-term rental market. 

The regulations could get a hearing as early as Tuesday, when the City Council's Planning and Land Use Management Committee meets. Its recommendation would be forwarded to the full council for a vote. 

Councilmember Mike Bonin, who co-sponsored the proposal for a cap, said the limit "is going to be the most contentious part" of discussion on the issue. But he expects it will be "sorted out in the next couple weeks."

"I'm interested in something that can get eight votes and passed into law," Bonin said. 

Stakes are high for Airbnb and others in the home-sharing industry. Los Angeles is one of the world's biggest short-term rental markets. Airbnb has created an ad campaign touting its eagerness to work with the city on crafting the new rules.  

"Los Angeles matters because it's a global destination," said Airbnb spokeswoman Connie Llanos.

Airbnb, alone, pays the city tens of millions of dollars in lodging taxes and, according to the company, generates more than $1 billion in economic activity.

Airbnb has said the city stands to lose millions in revenue if the current draft of the regulations were to go through. Bonin said that shouldn't be a consideration.

"We should be crafting sensible, enforceable rules and let the rules dictate the revenue," Bonin said. "We should not let the revenue dictate the rules."

Llanos said it has more than 15,000 hosts in L.A., most of whom are homeowners renting out their own homes.  

"We just want to make sure the restrictions that are put in place are fair and don’t overly restrict people’s abilities to be able to use this as a way to pay the bills," Llanos said.  

Airbnb is also protesting plans that require hosts rent out short-term rentals that are their primary residence.

Council members in tourist-heavy areas like Venice and Hollywood say such regulations are needed to protect L.A.'s affordable housing stock. Tenants have complained of being evicted and seeing their apartments later listed on Airbnb. 

"You can’t come into L.A. and buy 12 different properties and use them as a scattered site hotel, which is what's happening now," said Bonin, who represents Venice. 

Airbnb host Debbie Pollack helps lead a rally outside City Hall on Wednesday, June 8, 2017.
Josie Huang/KPCC
Airbnb host Debbie Pollack helps lead a rally outside City Hall on Wednesday, June 8, 2017.

Airbnb has marshaled dozens of hosts to to tell their stories to city officials since regulations were first introduced in 2015. Debbie Pollack of Sherman Oaks showed up at City Hall Wednesday with other hosts to lobby council members. 

"I need to rent my house 365 days a year to stay in my house," Pollack said to applause on the steps of City Hall before the hosts began their lobbying.  

At past hearings on the regulations, hosts have been countered by neighborhood activists who are worried about residents who are displaced.

Judy Goldman, co-founder of the group Keep Neighborhoods First, said her opposition is not to people who share their homes, but to commercial operators. She said a better rental cap would be 90 days — the number city planners initially proposed before the mayor-appointed Planning Commission went for 180 days. 

Fewer than 90 days, she said, would be even better.  "We don’t think this is home-sharing," Goldman said. "It’s about economic self-interest."