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Pasadena short-term rental debate showing division among hosts

Supporters of Airbnb and home-sharing applaud after hearing testimony from a colleague
Josie Huang/KPCC
Supporters of Airbnb and home-sharing applaud after hearing testimony from a colleague at a hearing at Los Angeles City Hall in 2016.

A coming crackdown in Pasadena on short-term lodging is exposing a divide among homeowners over the kinds of restrictions they would support when renting their units.

Cities around Southern California are drafting new rules to regulate the temporary rentals listed on sites like Airbnb and HomeAway. But the hosts who rent units differ about the kinds of limits they can support as opponents call for regulation of the swiftly expanding industry.

The divisions are particularly prominent in Pasadena, which is finalizing new hosting guidelines for a city that draws thousands of visitors annually to such attractions as the Rose Bowl. 

Under the Pasadena's proposed regulations, short-term rental hosts can only charge for stays in their primary homes. The rules won't change much for hosts like Liane Enkelis, who rents out her own home and is present through a guest's stay.

"We think they're good," said Enkelis, founder of the Pasadena Homesharing Network. 

But hosts who buy properties to rent out would be banned outright under Pasadena's proposed rules.

"I think they're very short-sighted," said Robert St. Genis, executive director of the Los Angeles Short Term Rental Alliance, referring to the draft rules. His group's members include property owners and property managers. "It's also discriminatory and lends itself to all kinds of issues and questions."

Cities all over California are trying to rein in short-term rentals as neighbors complain about nuisance properties and as concerns escalate that long-term rentals have being taken off the market and converted to Airbnb listings during a worsening statewide housing crisis. 

Requiring hosts to rent out only their primary residences is seen as one solution, an option the city of Los Angeles is also considering as it develops new short-term rental regulations.

During a hearing on L.A.'s proposed rules last week, the vast majority of the hosts testifying were people who rented out their own homes. Some of them differentiated themselves from hosts who are absent from the properties they rent out.

St. Genis of the Los Angeles Short-Term Rental Alliance said it's important for all short-term rental hosts to stick together. But he said in Pasadena, Enkelis and her group broke away.

"Maybe some of it was for ego and maybe some of it was also to accomplish their very limited scope and goal at the sake of other people," St. Genis said.  

For her part, Enkelis insists St. Genis' group does not speak for Pasadena. "We are Pasadena residents. We live here," Enkelis said.  

The two have at least one point of agreement: neither Enkelis nor St. Genis like a provision of the proposed Pasadena rules that says hosts who plan on being absent from their home during a guest's stay must limit bookings to 90 days a year. That could affect homeowners who rent out their homes while out of town for work, for examples, like those with jobs in entertainment. 

Enkelis said she accepted the new restriction in the spirit of compromise and overall welcomes regulations in Pasadena so that she and other hosts will no longer operate "in a gray area." 

"Once we are fully recognized, it gets rid of a lot of the backlash and the fear that many hosts have about speaking out about hosting and then we as a group can start participating more in civic activity," Enkelis said.  

Her hope is that Pasadena homesharers can begin work on other causes like pet adoption and neighborhood rehabilitation.  

Other cities in Southern California beyond Los Angeles and Pasadena are tackling short-term rental regulation, including Culver City, Long Beach and Torrance.

The cities writing new regulations are not following a template, according to Jason Rhine, legislative representative for the League of California Cities.

"Everybody is regulating them differently," Rhine said. "I think cities want to tailor their ordinances to their individual communities."

In Pasadena, for example, planners are proposing an extra provision that would be unique to the city. To protect residents living by the popular Rose Bowl, the number of short-term rentals in the neighborhood would be capped. 

The proposal has gone before different city groups including the Planning Commission last week, and heads to the council in the coming months, according to city spokesman William Boyer.