Airbnb is Raising the Ire of WeHo Apartment Managers and Tenants

$115 a night on North Sweetzer through Airbnb
$115 a night on North Sweetzer through Airbnb

[dropcap]F[/dropcap]or $50 a night, Alex is offering a bed in the corner of her one-bedroom apartment, a block from Whole Foods, that houses her and another tenant. For $153 a night, Denise is offering a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment near Plummer Park with a parking space and a dining table that seats six. Joseph and Charles will rent for $75 a night a bedroom with en suite bath and access to a swimming pool and sauna in their condominium on Alta Loma Road.

Alex's $50 a night rental
Alex’s $50 a night rental

These were among the 234 rooms or apartments identified as being in West Hollywood that were offered for rent on a recent day on Airbnb. One person, who identifies himself as a real estate agent, is offering six apartments in WeHo and Hollywood for short term rentals.

Airbnb was launched in 2007 by Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia, who were offering air mattresses and breakfast for up to three guests a night to help them cover the cost of their San Francisco apartment. Today Airbnb has gone global, with 500,000 listings in 33,000 cities and 192 countries. It is the exemplar of the so-called “peer to peer” marketplace in which individuals offer one another products and services without having to go through retailers or business owners.

Denise's rental for $150 a night
Denise’s rental for $150 a night

In West Hollywood, as elsewhere in the country, Airbnb is raising the hackles of some apartment building owners and tenants and raising questions with the city’s code enforcement staff about violations of WeHo’s zoning laws.

“It’s wrong on so many levels,” said leasing specialist Marco Colantonio. Colantonio was distressed to discover that tenants in two apartments in a building he manages were using Airbnb in violation of their lease agreement.

The discovery that the apartments were being rented out for short stays cast new light on the frequent comings and goings at Colantonio’s building. Colantonio said that he and other building tenants had been led to believe that the visitors were friends or family members of his residents.
Colantonio said that Airbnb takes away a landlord’s right to choose who to have in his building. He said that under-the-radar visitors raise concerns about safety because the guests aren’t subject to screening as are tenants.

“A landlord has the right to control who is occupying their property,” said Dennis Block, an attorney who specializes in tenant eviction. “Residents can use the service unless it violates laws regarding running a business or violation of the lease agreement. The resident could face eviction for using this site.”

Jeff Aubel, West Hollywood’s code compliance manager, said the city has received complaints from apartment residents about short-term rentals in their buildings and that 15 property owners believed to be illegally renting out space have been issued cease and desist orders.

Aubel said that using dwellings for short-term or vacation rentals violates WeHo’s zoning ordinance, which bars renting an apartment or room for fewer than 30 days. Someone who rents for fewer than 30 days faces a fine of $250 for the first violation, $450 for the second, $750 for the third and possible criminal charges for a fourth violation.

Joseph and Charles' $75 a night private room
Joseph and Charles’ $75 a night private room

“The city’s concern is compliance with its land use regulations, not the use of a particular website to advertise available condos and apartments,” Aubel said. “Listings on a website like Airbnb, used primarily for the advertisement of short-term/vacation rentals, can be evidence of a land use violation …Violation of the municipal code may subject the violator to fines, injunction, and/or criminal prosecution.”

Airbnb also offers competition to the city’s hotels, whose room tax is a major source of revenue for West Hollywood. While there is no apparent activity among hotels in West Hollywood, lobbyists for the industry worldwide have been campaigning against Airbnb, noting that it robs hotels of clients and that apartments rented through Airbnb don’t have to meet the strict, and expensive, safety standards required of hotels.

Apartment residents who complain about short term rentals by their neighbors, and those who rent out their apartments to tourists, are understandably reluctant to talk on the record about the issue. But the issue has made news in places from nearby Silver Lake to Portland and New York City. Airbnb is even under fire in its home town of San Francisco— although the San Francisco Examiner reports that it is tenants who are worried about landlords using the service for fear they will take rental properties off the market if short-term rentals prove more profitable. In New York City, one apartment tenant was issued a fine of $2,400 last year after using Airbnb to rent out a room in his apartment; the fine was then overturned on appeal because his roomate had been in the home during the renter’s stay.

Nick Papas, an Airbnb spokesperson, noted that Airbnb hosts must agree to follow local rules and lease agreements, and that all first-time hosts get a reminder to check the laws where they live.

“Problems with landlords and tenants are incredibly rare, but if they happen, we notify the host so he or she can work with the landlord and reach resolution,” said Papas, who called the sharing economy “a new paradigm.”

Airbnb also points to its “trust and safety features,” which includes profiles of apartment renters and reviews by Airbnb users of the spaces they rent out.

“The more you know us, the more you love us … when we work together, leaders and community members around the world quickly see how Airbnb makes communities stronger,” Papas said.

He also said Airbnb is winning battles against short-term rental restrictions, citing Hamburg, Denmark, Amsterdam and Seoul as communities that embrace Airbnb. Stateside, the company counts as victories decisions in Grand Rapids and in San Luis Obispo.

Locally, the West Hollywood City Council has agreed to establish a task force to look at the impact of Airbnb and other “peer to peer” businesses such as Uber and Lyft, the car services.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said that a New York man had been fined and did not include the information that the fine was overturned on appeal. 

  1. Jeromecleary: I don’t think I missed your point. You are saying that there are worse things than having a resident who invites an outside patron via airbnb to your neighborhood, such as having a resident who invites in someone via an app for casual sex.

    My response is clear, but you may have missed *my* point, so let me be clearer:

    1. These problems are additive. It is not a case of *either* you have airbnb “guests” *or* you have casual sex partners who were contacted online. By allowing airbnb to operate, you are not *eliminating* the casual sex partners, any more than you are eliminating, say, street crime, which of course is generally “worse” than having an airbnb guest. So by adding airbnb to the mix, you have all the problems that you had before, *plus* the problem of outside “guests” coming and going in your neighborhood.

    2. There may even be synergy between having unknown guests from outside the area, and the anonymous sex partner issue that you invoke. People who are on vacation are probably more likely to engage in various kinds of reckless behavior that those living in a neighborhood permanently would be more likely to avoid.

    I would add to the above that since your earlier post was written, airbnb and its analogues has been made illegal by the City of West Hollywood. There is now no way to run a rental of less than 31 days duration without breaking city laws.

  2. With hotels at every price level there is a verifiable standard of accommodations, service and security. With Airbnb this is rather arbitrary and certainly in most instances not under consistent control. Operating between the lines is always risky behavior but the greatest risk is to the unwitting innocent bystanders….other residents. Landlords have also been known to turn an opportunistic blind eye as they too often take advantage of Airbnb revenues under the table.

  3. Jerome Cleary: how about both? Nothing about an airbnb rental prohibits hooking up or even inviting in prostitutes, increasing the risk to the building and neighbors. In fact, transient guests are far more likely to engage in such behaviors than residents who care about their community and reputation.

  4. Hmmm let me see what is more dangerous and a security risk…..some stranger who is on Meth hooking up through Grindr or Craigslist coming to your apartment building in the middle of the night? OR someone who is staying at your apartment building who is going to spend their tourist dollars in our businesses, bars and restaurants for a few days or a week who is connected to a well known website Airbnb which is insured for damages?

  5. I hosted with AIRBNB and NEVER had one instance of rude behavior or entertained “transient” travelers. Further, there is a $1,000,000 AIRBNB insurance policy covering landlords and hosts. We have entertained international guests and the world became a friendlier place. Considering the climate of a hostile world you might consider how much GOOD this sharing is doing to benefit public relations world-wide. I would caution anyone reading this to ask what the motive is of those who posted above? Are they simply afraid of change, are inherently selfish and self-serving? Or just greedy landlords? I would assume that the majority of those leaving comments are landlords who are worried about their property value. Understood. But what do you do in a case where the majority of the hosts maintain EXCELLENT tidiness and have the utmost respect for the property BECAUSE they are hosting. If landlords were smart they would take a small 10% share. The use of the word “Sublet” is not synonymous with “Share”. There was a change in the legal tide recently.

    June 18, 2014 NYC

    Justice Jack Stoller’s Monday ruling means that Kimberly Freeman can stay in her rental apartment at 33 Gold St. because the city law that prohibits short-term sublets applies only to landlords.
    “The Multiple Dwelling Law is “generally aimed at the conduct of owners of property, not tenants,” Stoller wrote. Previously, landlords operated under the assumption that tenants profiting off unlawful sublets was a “noncurable” offense, meaning renters could not right the wrong to dodge eviction. Because Freeman was making a profit off her rental, she should be evicted, landlord Gold Street Properties had argued.”
    “The court does not find that the enactment of statues ­designed to prevent rental property from being used for hotel purposes prevents respondent from being able to cure such ­activity,” Stoller wrote.

    “It’s useful to make clear that a violation of the Multiple Dwelling Law and the anti-Airbnb rules is curable and that’s a good rule of law.”

    November 14, 2013

    And when city officials in Grand Rapids considered a ban on advertising short-term rentals on platforms like Airbnb, members of our incredible community worked with Peers to to voice their concern and educate policymakers. Here’s what the local news had to say about their work:
    Airbnb operators and other supporters of home sharing on Tuesday, Nov. 12, submitted a petition that had more than 1,000 online signatures calling on commissioners to postpone their vote. They also want commissioners to accommodate short-term room rentals in city ordinances without charging what they consider exorbitant fees.
    “What we heard over and over again was ‘delay it,’” Second Ward City Commissioner Ruth Kelly said.

    “We’re going to have to figure out how we might possibly change ordinances to deal with a changing world.”

  6. I live next door to one and the quality of life in my neighborhood has dropped precipitously the day it began renting. Nuts a constant party.

  7. I think this us destroying not enhancing our community as some suggest. A community is a group if people combined together with do common interest. When your community turn transient, it’s hard to call it a community anymore. Instead it’s just a group if hotels. Unregulated, uninsured, without safety equipment and putting an extra burden on public services without being taxed. I see property values going down wherever this transient housing occurs.

  8. Mr. Colantonio is absolutely correct. West Hollywood does not allow “hoteling.” To the extent that tenants violate local law they have likely breached a covenant of their lease. But, West Hollywood’s rent control law is so poorly written that all but the most egregious offenders can profit. My suggestion: forget eviction! Sue these rotten tenants in civil court for unfair competition and breach of contract. Make them defend their actions!

  9. i’ll tell you what, buy an apartment building and then you can let people come and go like it’s a motel.
    how outrageous is this ‘service’, that a building owner has no right to object when their property is being misused and abused?
    a lease is a contract, and must be enforced. if the city of west hollywood has no interest in being a fair broker between landlords and tenants, then it will be a free for all, as this city tries to maintain some notion of affordable housing.
    if you are a tenant, you are a tenant, not an owner, not a decision maker, not an investor, not part of a co-operative, nothing but a tenant.
    it’s not right, and a violation of the compact between a landlord who has properly credentialed his/her tenant, and the tenant, who has signed an agreement to perform under the strictures of that lease.
    tenants lie about who these ‘friends’ are, and I know this from personal experience when I meet someone new every other week, strolling out of the apartment next door, wearing brown socks and sandals. das goot?
    it’s a joke.

  10. I’m wondering about a business license and taxes not being collected and paid to the city for these unlawful “rentals”. One would think that the City would monitor the known sites and fine and shutdown these businesses? One would think that the legitimate hotels would be up in arms about this! Comparing to Lyft, Uber, etc. is comparing apples to oranges. A dwelling involves noise, security and a myriad of other ‘social issues’. It is one thing to have a house guest for a short period of time, or having a “tenant”. Who is liable in case of damage? A building being burned down! Extreme yes, but very real possibility. Do the original tenants change the locks after every rental? If NOT, they are putting their life in jeopardy. Years ago people would go to storage locker places, rent a locker, then break into other lockers and steal many peoples stuff. The exact same thing could happen in these cases. The “tenant” could come for a short time, get the “lay of the land”, even with photographs, and then come back later a burglarize the original place they rented, or the neighbors! Endless criminal possibilities. Rape. Murder. Theft. and the list goes on.

  11. AirBnB and similar sites are successful because they provides a service that people want, affordable short term housing. How is it any different than Uber, Lyft, Sidecar, and all the rest taking business from taxi companies and tax revenues from cities? RelayRides takes business away from rental car companies. The list goes on and on. Cities can try to regulate them, but they won’t be able to ban them. Sharing services are here to stay.

  12. Airbnb allows and promotes totally unregulated transient stays in residential dwellings. Hotels and legitimate bed and breakfast establishments are required to have licenses, health permits, maintain insurance and meet all code requirements providing security and proper maintenance to ensure safety and sanitary conditions.

    In one scenario, my tenant would regularly call to alert me that a friend was staying for a few days or that relatives were visiting to take care of her cat while she was out of town. Eventually, the visitors and calls were so frequent that it raised a red flag. Sadly after perusing the airbnb website, I found that the tenant had list her $1100.00 per month studio at $150.00 for a night, $750.00 for a week or $3800.00 for a month, I realized that the tenant been lying all along, having concocted a elaborate scheme to profit by renting out her unit thus compromising the safety of her neighbors. The page advertising her apartment on Airbnb was much like a hotel advertisement on Trip Advisor, Priceline or Trivago and revealed 27 unique reviews, some in Spanish, German and French with multiple recommendations and comments about linens, bedding and the location, providing for fees for late check outs, additional guests and the ratings from boarders spanning the globe.

    We contacted an attorney and served the tenant for multiple lease violations. It was a real nightmare for her neighbors, who suffered a constant barrage of unfamiliar faces in the courtyards, common areas and laundry room and the disarming sound of luggage rollers going up and down the paths of the property causing neighbors to ask the question: “Are we living in a hotel or what?”

    Facing legal action, the tenant gave 30 days’ notice and surrendered her apartment, acknowledging that the allure of airbnb had become intoxicating. Renting out her apartment had become so lucrative that she moved out of it and in with her boyfriend and lying about who was staying there became routine for her. Airbnb made it easy to break the law and jeopardize the safety of her neighbors. Apartments are not meant to serve as hotels and ultimately, Airbnb was a heart ache for our tenants and neighbors. It’s wrong on so many levels, not to mention the potential for bed bugs.

  13. Code Compliance perpetually the weakest link in the chain with no backbone and few knowledgeable or instinctive personnel.

  14. In my apartment building there are tenants who have numerous guests come and stay for extended periods who are not at all connected to Airbnb but cause a lot of problems. These “guests” end up parking in our tenants only parking lot. Blocking the other tenants and myself in and out of our parking spaces. Using tons of water and lowering our water pressure. Smoking a lot of pot on their patios and the pot smoke comes into our windows. Making a lot of noise. Coming and going in the middle of the night very loudly. And our management company and landlord do absolutely nothing about it. From what I can see from Airbnb’s policies and from people I know who use Airbnb to have people stay in their units that these guests from Airbnb are hardly any of the real problems. And if our city is going to have some kind of task force than doesn’t that take away from the residents’ needs who are tenant/lease holders and homeowners who need the regular service from code enforcement?

  15. It’s not just Airbnb, it’s other services like VRBO & Home Away too. There is a homeowner in our neighborhood who has repeatedly, over the past few years, done vacation rentals of his home. There were often loud parties, the sheriffs were called countless times and there were many complaints to the City’s code enforcement. Even when presented with the online ads, law enforcement reports and the like, the City code enforcement did nothing.

    I know this doesn’t happen with every rental, but many of these short term rentals are to people who come to WeHo to party and have a good time. Which is fine, I just don’t want to hear it all weekend. Keep it in the clubs, bars and restaurants and then come home to a nice hotel room where you get cleans up the mess and the hotel collects TOT (which funds city operations).

    As an aside, I wonder what kind of insurance these young Airbnb, VRBO, etc. entrepreneurs have and, if they are even insured, will the insurance cover an accident or some other incident that may occur while renting out a room or apartment. I checked with my insurance agent and he said that while a guest in my home would be covered, if the insurance company knew it was a short term rental, they wouldn’t cover it. My carrier doesn’t offer a rider for short term rental, only if I lease out my home on a long-term basis. I understand that there are a few insurance companies will write coverage for this kind of occupancy, but I’m betting that most don’t have it.

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