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Santa Monica inches closer to regulating AirBnB; nearby LA considers its own measure

Santa Monica City Hall hosted an overflow audience who came to debate a proposed ordinance regulating short-term and vacation rentals.
KPCC/Leo Duran
Santa Monica City Hall hosted an overflow audience who came to debate a proposed ordinance regulating short-term and vacation rentals.

Santa Monica is one step closer to banning most short-term rentals through sites like AirBnB, and regulations could go into effect as early as June.

The city council spent more than two hours Tuesday night listening to concerns about the proposed ordinance from residents. The city would require hosts to collect a 14 percent hotel tax, obtain a business license. More importantly, it reaffirms Santa Monica's current ban on vacation rentals where a host rents out a whole unit and is absent during the guest's stay.

At the end of the meeting, the council sent the ordinance back to staff for only a couple minor revisions, and was very vocal to say it largely supported the measure. The ordinance comes to a final vote as early as May 12.

Santa Monicans split on the effect of short-term rentals

Council members were sympathetic to people who said they relied on the extra income to afford their homes. However, they showed more concern for people who said many apartments in the city have been cleared out and converted into short-term rentals.

"It's particularly important that we focus our enforcement on those folks who basically have apartment buildings and are turning them into hotels," said council member Sue Himmelrich.

Several people echoed hotel worker Agustin Cardenas, who believed short-term rentals drove up the cost of nearby apartments. "I would love the opportunity to live closer to where I work," he said through a translator. "I see that companies like AirBnB have taken more than 1,400 homes in Santa Monica to rent to tourists. This is an injustice."

Others, many of whom identified as hosts, said the issue of short-term rentals was a red herring for the city's lack of affordable rents.

"There is a housing crisis, but is it really because of AirBnB?" said speaker Cortland Connell.

The council was unmoved, however, by people who said regulations would make it hard for them to continue renting their own home.

"It's not so easy for people to come to Santa Monica and be able to afford it," said Alexander Miller, who said he rents out a room in his apartment. Mayor Kevin McKeown countered that he could still rent that out under the proposed regulations.

"My issue is taxing that," said Miller.

"So you don't think if you're running a business you should be paying a tax?" asked McKeown.

"No," Miller replied, causing snickers from the room.

Santa Monica's ordinance would go into effect 30 days after approval, meaning that it could be enforced starting in June.

However, council member Pam O'Connor expressed concern for visitors who already made reservations for the summer, and urged that enforcement take a measured approach early on so those tourists weren't struggling for new accommodations.

Santa Monica may prod action in L.A.

City officials in Los Angeles are closely watching the measure in Santa Monica.

L.A. city council member Mike Bonin told KPCC he's concerned that operators of short-term rentals would move out of Santa Monica and into the neighborhoods he represents like Venice.

But similar regulations in L.A. are, at the earliest, months away.

"It's probably going to take the city of Los Angeles longer to craft a series of regulations," said Bonin. "What I'm looking at is if we can do something temporary in the short-term."

He is currently exploring ways to regulate short-term rentals within his specific district, which includes many beach communities, before the whole council takes action.

"We have a very clear crisis of affordable housing with large numbers of rental units practically disappearing on a daily basis," he says.