WeHo Formalizes Its Ban on Short-Term Rentals

The West Hollywood City Council has adopted an amendment to the city’s zoning text to clarify that short-term residential rentals are illegal.

The Council’s decision last night comes after months of study of the impact of such rentals, offered by services such as Airbnb, on the local economy and quality of life. The existing zoning law bans rental of residential properties for 30 days or less. But a task force appointed by the Council in February 2014 recommended the zoning ordinance make clearer that the ban applies to property rented through so-called “shared economy” services such as Airbnb, VRBO and Housetrip‎.

AirbnbIssues raised by opponents of short-term rentals include disruptive behavior by vacationers and the fact that the services have led some property owners to take rental units off the long-term rental market, a major issue in West Hollywood given the city’s high rents and shortage of available housing. A study by the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE), released in March, argued that that the “shared economy” business has a negative impact on the availability of affordable housing and on hotel revenue. The study said West Hollywood is one of the top 10 revenue-generating neighborhoods for Airbnb in greater Los Angeles. The LAANE study also said that while Airbnb markets itself as a way for homeowners and apartment renters to share their homes with tourists, the bulk of its revenue actually comes from rental of “whole units,” which are apartments and houses where the renter or owner is not present. Such “whole unit” rentals accounted for $3.7 million (88 percent) of Airbnb’s $4.2 million in revenue from West Hollywood rentals in 2014 according to the LAANE study. If the city’s 12.5 percent hotel room occupancy tax were applied to that revenue, it would generate $463,000.

Supporters of short-term rentals argue that they provide an extra source of revenue for renters or home owners who otherwise would struggle to pay their housing costs and that they make it possible for people who otherwise can’t afford hotel room rates to visit WeHo. Several of the more than 30 speakers at tonight’s City Council meeting who supported short-term rentals said they wouldn’t be able to afford to live in WeHo without the extra revenue provided by renting out their apartments or houses. One renter, Rebecca Ewing, said she began renting out a room in her West Hollywood apartment after she lost her job for a year. Ewing said she wanted the city to allow residents to rent out rooms while they were present but agreed that entire apartments should not be rented and thus taken off the long-term rental market.

Ray Artuhur, another West Hollywood renter, said he used the money he received from renting his apartment on Airbnb to start a tech company and hire two people. Another supporter of short-term rentals, Gregory Marcel, said he uses Airbnb to house people who come to Los Angeles to work with his small film production company. “It would completely bankrupt my company if I had to put people up in a hotel for three weeks at a time,” he said.

Most Council members expressed some support for short-term rentals of rooms within an apartment or home occupied by its renter or owner as a way to provide an affordable option for visitors who can’t afford the city’s hotels and as a source of revenue for city residents. But they also said that regulating such rentals would be difficult. “The problem in West Hollywood is the systems we have aren’t adequate to regulate the shared economy,” said Councilmember John Duran. Duran noted that the city now enforces the ban on short-term rentals only when it receives an actual complaint about one and doesn’t have the resources to research what local housing units are being offered for rent online. Councilmember Lauren Meister said that while the short-term rental concept makes sense for home owners, “in practice rooms are being rented out with no owner on site.”

Councilmember John D’Amico, however, opposed a blanket policy of making short-term rentals illegal, arguing that the practice is a part of new wave of on-demand services such as taxi rides by Uber and is inevitable. “We can stand on the shore and yell at the waves as much as we want, and they are still going to crash over us,” he said. D’Amico said it was clear from the number of local residents who showed up to oppose the ban that “we can regulate the hell out of it and you’re still going to do it.” D’Amico said statistics he has seen indicate that only one quarter of one percent of the city’s housing units are offered as short-term rentals. “This is actually not affecting our affordable housing…. In fact I would actually argue that the people who are renting out their units have said that this makes their housing affordable.”

In its vote, the Council accepted a proposal by Councilmember John Heilman that city staffers come back in six months with data about complaints of illegal short-term rentals and recommendations for ways to enforce the ordinance. Heilman also asked the staff to determine what sort of revenue would be generated by an occupancy tax on short-term rentals if the Council were to approve them. The Council also asked city staffers to consider a recommendation by Mayor Lindsey Horvath that short-term rentals be allowed for Halloween and Gay Pride, two major events that attracts thousands of visitors to West Hollywood.

Several speakers at last night’s meeting said they believe that apartments in the Dylan and Huxley buildings, new apartment projects on La Brea Avenue on the city’s Eastside, are being exclusively rented out to visitors. However Maribel Louie, the city’s Arts and Economic Development manager, said those units are being rented as corporate housing with stays of more than 30 days, which complies with city law.

  1. Couldn’t agree more, Duff Bennett. People who can’t afford WeHo hotels also won’t be spending any money at other WeHo businesses. Why is that so hard to understand? It’s ABUNDANTLY CLEAR to me. Win/Win!

  2. HMMMM, The Castro Regime of Cuba has the foresight and wisdom to allow AirBnB to operate in their Communist Country but West Hollywood elected officials are not able to see the overwhelming benefit of this 21st Century technology. The amount of added revenue to our local business owner is much needed and visitors spend DOLLARS.

  3. Well, Disco Dan, just because you think you’ve made it “abundantly clear”, doesn’t mean I’ve bought it! (Could you be any more condescending?) So you assume you should be the final word, and write your own definitions? I’m NOT missing the point! It seems to me you’re missing mine.

    As long as the tenant the apartment is assigned to is occupying the unit and paying the rent, and neighbors are not being disturbed, what difference does it make who pays him to sleep on his sofa or use a spare bedroom overnight, or for a few days? I haven’t checked into it, but I would imagine anyone who uses AirBnB had to register with the site, and basic info on them would be on file.

    I’m not responding here to change your mind, because that would be pointless, but there may be other people who are following this who just might see the issue my way.

  4. BEB – I don’t know why you continue to defend Airbnb either ESPECIALLY since I’ve made it abundantly clear of the difference as it pertains to “visitors.” You seem to keep missing the point. And this will be my last post in response to any of yours because, well, it would be pointless.

  5. I don’t know why I am defending this issue because it has nothing to do with me, but I do get prickly when my freedom is threatened by someone just because they CAN. People get their shorts in a wad when something new comes along that they can’t participate in, so they want to make sure no one else can either.

    If opportunities in this business is denied, it seems that other home-based businesses might need to be restricted as well. Where is the line going to be drawn? I used to live across the hall from a massage therapist who had clients round the clock. He had done it for years until the lady who lived upstairs from him found out about it and she wanted him shut down. She was never able to say how her well being was in any way affected by his business, but that didn’t matter to her.

  6. BEB – Yes, management may do screening of prospective tenants by meeting them, obtaining their FICO score/s, etc. But, again, this is not the same as knowing a relative or friend for years. As regards friends coming over or home based business, well, these people, as you said, “come and go,” as opposed to staying there for 30 days or less.

  7. Yeah, Disco Dan, I know that, but I’ve lived in buildings in which there are tenants who were presumably screened by the management before they were accepted to move in who regularly create a lot of unpleasantness for the other tenants. And tenants who are quiet and responsible on their own, often have friends who they bring into the building who are not. There really are some things that can’t be fully controlled, and I think this may be one of them. Tenants operate businesses out of their home all the time, and often those businesses require that a few people per day come and go to and from their apartment. I’m having trouble seeing how this is any different from other home-based businesses, or overnight guests who the tenant may or may not know all that well.

  8. BEB – Friends, “significant other” or even relatives are all people you know and possibly known for quite some time and vouch for their character. With patrons of Airbnb you are essentially dealing with total strangers and their behavior could be debatable. A very different scenario !

  9. I’ve had friends from three other states come stay at my apartment for several days to two weeks, and I have given them keys so they could come and go as they needed to. They paid me for any expenses I incurred for their stay. How would friends of a tenant be distinguished from an airbnb guest? Why is a tenant’s “significant other”, who spends much of their overnight time in a building in which they are not officially a renter, be all that different than an airbnb guest? In my building the “significant other” of one tenant uses guest parking in the garage several nights a week. I would imagine most out-of-towners who use airbnb would not come here at all if they weren’t able to get affordable lodging, so it looks like a net gain to me for WeHo, because they do eat at our restaurants, attend our bars, and shop at local businesses. The word “Regulate” has become one that I most hate because it means we are all about to lose a little more of our freedom.

  10. @woody and constance.. read my post again.. it is up to YOUR lease and YOUR hoa to regulate YOUR building.. as some hoa’s may choose to allow.. some landlords may choose to allow. It is not up to local government to start policing peoples bedrooms and visitors. The next thing you know every tourist to west hollywood will have to pay a cover charge.

  11. Woody, I think we agree on everything except condominiums. Those have owners as well, and the HOA is there to protect owners interests. Once again, if the HOA votes to allow short term (or long term) rentals, I think that should be OK, and the city shouldn’t interfere in any way.

  12. Economics, i.e. TOT tax or personal gain, should not drive this issue…..and there are many cases where regulation has served to instigate abuse.

    Without being motivated by money, the majority of the council chose to defend the integrity of home, community and neighborhoods.

  13. Randy I agree with you & as I stated in one of my above posts, “Private single homes are an entirely different matter”. However I think the “no rentals allowed for less than 30 days” law should continue to apply to condominium buildings – as well as apartment buildings – as a guideline for Condo Association rules & the protection of & respect for the rights of other condo owners. Owners/occupants of single units in multiple unit buildings do not have the right to impose their business activities on the other property owners & invade their privacy or compromise their safety. Private free standing house owners have a right to do as they wish as long as they do not violate the law. And I reiterate my point that these laws should be about protecting the people in general & not about protecting the profits of the few.

  14. Woody, you make some valid points, but what about people who own duplexes and single family homes? I think they should be able to do what they like with their property. Of course, it should be regulated, and they should have to pay taxes.

    It should be up to the HOA at a condominium complex to make that decision. If the majority of owners in a condo agree to it, why not? It should be their right. They own the property. And not everyone who purchases a condo intends to live in it full time.

    Once again, I don’t think apartments should ever be used in such a manner, as that was not their intended use, and that has a much more serious impact on housing stock than the former.

    But private homes/condos/duplexes are a different story. The truth is, for duplexes and homes, most people don’t know who their neighbors are (in neighboring properties) anyways, and I can’t buy the argument that the neighborhood is necessarily “less safe” as a result.

    Keep in mind that this “shared economy” model is not only good for some homeowners, but for travelers as well. A lot of people who need to be in town for work, for example, working on a per diem, on a temporary job (a lot in the entertainment industry). Not just tourists.

    I have a friend who owns multiple homes, and he transitioned many of them to vacation rentals when the great recession hit in 2008 to help make ends meet. At that time, he had trouble finding full time tenants for some of his properties, because of the bad economy. And this was all before AirBnB existed.

  15. @Allison, I tried to rent a one or two bedroom at the Dylan or Huxley. Only had a couple of each left in less desirable locations within the buildings. So basically you’re wrong; either mis-informed or intentionally trying to get a rise out of people. Either way you information is false. They may not be the most beautiful buildings on the outside but the amenities and units themselves are great. Sort of bummed I can’t get a good unit.

  16. Why can’t our City Council & other city officials take a page from the Santa Monica City Council leadership playbook , which cracked down on Airbnb & the rest of short term rental industry in their beautiful city & adopted it’s “Home Sharing Ordinance” which bans the rental of an entire unit for less than 30 days & requires those who take part in allowable home sharing to obtain a business license from the city & pay a 14% hotel tax, taking effect June 15, 2015. The City says the hotel tax will help pay for the enforcement officers & for an analyst to find illegal rentals on line. I don’t like the sound of private residences being officially designated as hotels & turned into a source of tax revenue for the city, but at least the SMCC is showing the leadership of problem solving & providing solutions & making appropriate laws instead of stumbling & stammering over this important issue as if there is no way to satisfactorily resolve it. Santa Monica Mayor Kevin McKeown also had the insight & common sense & compassion to state the obvious, which I have been saying along: “People may be coming & going at 2 or 3 a.m., making noises that disturb other neighbors. You don’t know who they’re going to bring in with them. The neighbors aren’t sure who the strangers are & you end up with who knows how many people who have keys to the building & to the parking garage. There is no connection to the temporary building occupants & the permanent residents. It’s unfair & potentially unsafe.” Once again, this is more about the safety & quality of life for the people who do not rent out their homes to transients but are imposed upon by those who prostitute their home for a quick buck. It is about public safety & quality of life & about putting people before profit. Those who say “Airbnb is here to stay” might be a little premature in their predictions because this trend is still in it’s infancy & no one has any way of knowing what kinds of yet unforeseen problems it might impose in the future that might require more stringent rules or outright banning. It’s better to try to make & enforce regulations now that to wait until it gets much worse & more difficult to control.

  17. I’ve (as an Uber driver) driven models from other countries back & forth to the Dylan and they’re not renting rooms there for more than 30 days so I don’t see how that’s “compliant” with the city’s regulations. The ONLY reason the CC wants to ban Airbnb is because they aren’t making any $$$ off of them. It’s even stated in the article. Once the city decides to regulate & collect from them, they’ll be legal.

  18. The Prohibition of short term rentals will be about as effective as the prohibition on alcohol or the War on Drugs. Would have been much smarter to regulate it than to “ban” it.

  19. Larry Block has taken a very mercenary approach to this subject matter as opposed to a humanitarian one. This is not about private residences being taxed as businesses & making money for the city. That’s cold! it is first & foremost about the quality of life for renters or condo owners in their private homes without transient hotel activity moving into their neighborhoods & taking place around their living environment & potentially compromising their privacy & safety not to mention additional property maintenance expenses or the potential eviction of renters who are forbidden to sublet as a term of their lease which is very real even now. That subject alone opens a whole new Pandora’s Box of conflict among landlords & tenants as well as other renters & condo owners who do not want strangers wandering around & in & out of their property unidentified. I have already heard & witnessed confrontations between renters of different units regarding unauthorized sub 1 night or week end rentals in their building & I know it only has the potential to get worse as the rental activity in buildings increases as more & more people decide to jump on the easy money bandwagon. It’s inevitable & it’s not hard to foresee & should be nipped in the bud as much as possible by the City’s elected officials. Private single homes are an entirely different matter. Larry has a beautiful private house, all secured by hedges & gates.& he apparently chooses to rent out part of his property because he has been very public with his own private tenant problems & ensuing law suits which have been published in detail on this site. However I presume the average apartment or condo rental tenant would not be able to afford an attorney to handle any potential liability they might be faced with as a result of a renter/sub-renter disagreement or accident that might become volatile or damaging enough to require one. And I doubt that most renters have home liability or property insurance. I love Larry dearly, he’s a sweet generous man with good intentions. If the last election had been a beauty pageant, Larry likely at least would have won the “Miss Congeniality” title for his sparkling personality & eagerness to please. Although I don’t usually have any serious disagreements with Larry (& campaigned & voted for him in the March 3rd election), I think in this case he can’t see the forest for the trees & since he always provides input on matters at hand, I would like to hear him address this as a serious quality of life issue in general instead of a revenue source for the city.

  20. Larry, as a renter and 15 year resident of WeHo, I do not want to live in a hotel like environment. Period. Do you?? For once, think about us!

  21. Randy said it best.. HOA laws apply to condos, your lease applies to your rental unit, and regulate homeowners. One registration per owner. $125 registration fee same as landlords pay the city. TOT tax on all renters. Airbnb is collecting and responsible for the tax. All monies go to compliance.

    If you add up every hotel room in West Hollywood its half of one MGM Grand in Las Vegas. We can use the added revenue for our affordable housing trust fund. We can use the registration fee to pay for compliance. We can use the extra tourists to frequent our local businesses. The airbnb customer is not the same customer as a young traveler or business traveler staying in our $200-$500 room hotels.

    Seems like a waste to ban it. We can regulate it now, register the units now.. use that money for an employee to oversee, and apply the tax asap to the units that are registered. We can’t ban the future of travel.. and the most of us can’t afford these hotel prices.

  22. Woody et al. This article captures part of what happened last night. We all heard excellent testimony and made very smart comments. I tried to put the city on a path towards regulating this service – licensing hosts and limiting Short Term Rentals by housing category and collecting TOT tax – since I believe that short term rentals will continue even though the Council again chose to ‘ban’ (not regulate) the practice. That motion did not move forward. Instead the motion to ‘ban’ the practice means that for the foreseeable future, West Hollywood will not have any regulations or enforcement in place and has no plan to do so – I could not support that motion as a path forward.

    I do not believe we have had the last discussion of AirBnB and other types of Short Term Rentals and I look forward to the time when the city begins to regulate this service, enforce those regulations and collect TOT tax from hosts. If you or anyone else wants to talk about this give me a call. 310.498.5783 mobile

  23. Alison, I couldn’t agree more!! GREEDY developers and city reps are to blame. East West Hollywood has been overrun with people who have NO interest in community. Just on their way in or out, on to the next thing. THANKS FOR RUINING MY NEIGHBORHOOD.

    From what I understand, in NoHo, they couldn’t fill these squatty big buildings and they all went section 8 (not sure how true this is, but something to think about).

  24. This is not only about those who cannot afford their rent or mortgage payments. This is a quality of life issue for the majority. This is about the invasion of our neighborhoods & residences by multiple businesses in each residential building with the doors of their homes wide open to the public, threatening our safety & security in our own personal private domains for the need, greed and/or profit of the few, as the case may be. Should those short term renters have access to our swimming pools, building saunas & gyms & other common areas which the apartment building owners & condo owners pay to maintain? Should they have access to our garages & private guest parking areas, be allowed to consume the already in short supply street parking? What is the point of having “National Night Out” to familiarize ourselves with our neighbors & to spot strangers & prevent potential crimes if we are going to have strangers coming & going from our private residence buildings at all hours of the day & night as though they were commercial hotels or motels? On what kind of logic is the idea that you don’t make laws to protect the public’s interest because “we can regulate the hell out of it & you’re still going to do it?” That is no different that the ridiculous reason put forth by the Republicans & the NRA that we shouldn’t have gun control laws because anyone who wants a gun can get one. Or why have STOP signs in our residential neighborhoods because no one is going to obey them anyway. Why have ordinances requiring dogs be on leashes, pooper scooper laws, no bicycles or skateboards on the sidewalks, because no one is going to honor those laws anyway, so why bother? In fact, why have laws at all because “if you stand on the shore & scream at the waves, they will crash all over you” …. or something like that. That is not leadership, it is a meaningless cop out. Those who seek & are given positions of leadership are expected to lead, not make empty flimsy excuses, & that means finding solutions to problems & dilemmas as well as finding ways to see that they are enacted & enforced. Also, saying that these kinds of short term rentals are not affecting our affordable housing is premature & lacking in substance. I wonder where Councilmember D’Amico is getting his information or if he might have more personal reasons for being so gung ho & one-sided in his enthusiastic support for short term rentals while he seems to give no consideration or regard at all to those who consider this trend to potentially damaging to their quality of life as well as to the housing supply. It just doesn’t make sense to me. There is not enough data or concrete information on this subject to back up his theory & in any case I think he will be proven wrong as time goes on. I very much hope the City Council will show the leadership it takes to seriously regulate this situation for the benefit of property owners & the City as a whole before it gets more & more out of hand & more difficult to control which will inevitably happen otherwise.

  25. Once again, I think home/duplex owners should be able to do what they like.

    Condominium use should be decided by the HOA, which is the voting body for the owners.

    Apartments should be forbidden, as that is not their intended use, and it does impact housing stock.

    But they shouldn’t tell private home/condo owners what to do with their property. Apartment owners know what business they were getting into, and that’s what makes it different.

  26. Alison,
    You make valid points, however I think it’s fair to say that the developments on the city’s east side have also brought a substantial drop in crime (last I read down 40%). It’s nice being able to walk around the neighborhood and have many more people out and about. I hope that with time the rental prices and all of the new and upcoming vacancies will drive prices back down.

  27. I was at the CC meeting last night, to the bitter end. Going in, I had NO clue as to what a HOT BUTTON issue Airbnb was. I think at least 30 residents spoke in favor of allowing Airbnb to not be designated as illegal although I think it already is so. What’s missing from this article was Councilmember Duran’s example of his trying to defend two renters who have allowed Airbnb customers to stay in their apartments. The renters were evicted by their landlords. After the testimony by all the pro-Arirbnb residents, I wondered how many landlords will access the video recording of this meeting and notice that there are tenants who, unbeknownst to their landlord, are using Airbnb. These tenants could possibly be evicted because they clearly stated in a public forum that they are tenants and using Airbnb. If the city views businesses such as Airbnb as illegal, how can the city then set guidelines and collect taxes on revenue? It seems contradictory. Maybe the City Attorney will sort it all out. However, not in question was that businesses like Airbnb are probably here to stay. The question was: How cam we possibly enforce an outright ban or modified ban? Seemingly, this would be impossible. So, tenants who employ Airbnb are sort of playing a game of Russian Roulette, hoping that their landlords will remain ignorant of their activities or wiling to take the huge risk of being evicted. Good luck !

  28. So, just as I thought, the Huxley and Dylan, are pretty much failures. They put up these huge, ugly boxes and they can’t rent them out at the huge, ugly rents they are asking. Why were these monstrosities built on the East Side, where rents were traditionally lower? They have, in turn, made rents on the entire East Side go up substantially. The owners of the older buildings in the area saw the rents they were asking and jacked up all the rents for the 50’s buildings without doing much upgrading, if any at all.

    As for Air BnB, I think they should be banned for apartments. Homeowners should be allowed to use it, but not apartment renters.

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