With so-called “shared economy” businesses under study now by a city task force, Airbnb has posted an advisory on its website reminding owners and tenants of West Hollywood apartments that they must follow city regulations regarding short-term rentals.
Following those regulations, however, would take most of the West Hollywood apartments listed on Airbnb off the market. Those regulations effectively ban any apartment or home rentals for fewer than 30 days.
“When deciding whether to become an Airbnb host, it is important for you to understand the laws in your city,” says Airbnb. “As a platform and marketplace we do not provide legal advice, but we want to give you some useful links that may help you better understand laws and regulations in West Hollywood. This list is not exhaustive, but it should give you a good start in understanding your local laws. If you have questions, contact the Planning division, the Code Compliance division or other city agencies directly, or consult a local lawyer or tax professional.”
The Airbnb notice includes links to the city’s Code Compliance office and other offices. The mention of a tax professional is a reference to the city’s hotel room occupancy tax, which hotels are required to pay on rooms they have rented to guests.
A number of local landlords and tenants have expressed concern on finding that apartments they owned or tht were occupied by their neighbors were being rented for a few days or weeks to tourists.
“It’s wrong on so many levels,” said leasing specialist Marco Colantonio, who manages two local apartment buildings. He said that Airbnb takes away a landlord’s right to choose who to have in his building and that under-the-radar visitors raise concerns about safety because the guests aren’t subject to screening as are tenants.
Earlier this year, 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.
Yet Airbnb lists hundreds of West Hollywood apartment and rooms for short-term rent — with a count of more than 400 today.
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.
At the request of City Council members Abbe Land and John Heilman, the city this summer established a “shared economy” task force to look at the impact of services such as Airbnb and others like Uber and Lyft, which offer unregulated taxi services provided by local drivers.
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.
Shared economy services serve as extra sources of revenue for individuals, while also providing efficient and affordable services to those that use them. However, there is debate across the country about the violation of existing municipal regulatory schemes and zoning codes by such services and their impact on sources of city revenue such as hotel taxes and taxi franchise fees.