Opinion: Confessions of an Airbnb Host in WeHo

There is so much discussion about Airbnb and short-term vacation rentals. Everybody is blaming “the platform,” the online booking agent. It’s like blaming Expedia because your flight was delayed or Grubhub because the meal was lousy. Airbnb, HomeAway, MisterBnB or the others are not the source of the problem. They are just platforms to connect travelers and hosts. Just like anything and everything else that connects wants and needs in this new age economy.

The problem is people who abuse the system. The problem is landlords who keep units off the market to use them as vacation rentals. The problem is people who rent apartments for the sole purpose to re-rent those units as a hotel without any owner present. This issue at hand is not Airbnb but people who are greedy. At one city council meeting a famous man in town stood up to confess owning 14 houses and renting them all as short term vacation rentals. That multi-millionaire has 14 homes, a crew to service those homes, perhaps two bedrooms a house and is literally running a hotel. Please don’t blame me for the abuse of others.

My story is quite different. I purchased a single-family residence when life was grand. My partner and I moved in together and both of us had incomes. Life happens and I became disabled. My partner moved out. My choices were limited. So I held on for a few years and then it was down to the wire. My Iocal business did not make enough for me to afford to stay in West Hollywood. I’d be closing the business and selling the house. It hurt me to face reality that I might have to move out of a city that was my home for the past 30 years.

airbnb roomYou don’t know me but my contributions to this community are deep. Most everyday I serve this city in some shape or form to help others like me who have a disability or work for things for the community at large. But that service doesn’t give me a pass. It’s just that our city values aging in place for renters. And I think the city should value the needs of homeowners equally to those of renters.

There are so many programs for renters to age in place. But home ownership expenses go up and up. And if I sold my house, three condos would be built in its place, which would stress traffic and parking and add more density to an already crowded city.

So it was down to the wire, my local business was closing, and the agent came over to make a list of repairs so the house would be sold and Palm Springs here I come! At lunch with a best friend he said why not try one of the short-term vacation rental platforms and I listed my extra room on Airbnb and some others. It was 10 p.m. in June of 2015. There was no local ban on these short-term rentals. I woke up the next morning and had an inquiry to the room. The room didn’t even have a bed. I moved my bed into the spare room and slept on the couch.

About a week later there was a second inquiry. You see a person who wants to make a reservation sends a request. The host will verify that guest. The verification process includes reviews by other hosts, something about the person, and a discussion of house rules. And upon leaving the guest gets a review. If you have bad reviews you will not be accepted by another host or by the “platform.” It’s up to each host to establish those rules. A year into this and about 100 guests later I’ve met friends, I’ve met neighbors, and I’ve traveled the world by staying at home. The host experience is no different then hosting a foreign exchange student. It’s a fantastic learning experience and I’ve met friends from all over the world.

The second guest was a new grandma. Her daughter lived in West Hollywood West and just had a new baby girl. She wanted to visit and help with the newborn but was on a limited budget. She asked if the place was quiet during the day because she would be spending all night with her daughter. When she left she said ‘thank you so much for hosting me, – I was able to afford a two days at a hotel but this helped me afford a week. The new grandma was so happy. I didn’t really know the how much and how important an affordable place to stay meant to this grandma.

The most notable host experience I’ve had was a gay man from Palm Springs. His inquiry explained his surgery at Cedars Sinai. He was having esophagus surgery and would require help during the day. He stayed four nights. He asked if I would pick him up at the hospital because you cannot get discharged unless somebody other than yourself picks you up. He lay in bed all day with a tube in his neck until he had to return to Cedars. Yes he offered extra money, but I said no. He could not afford a recovery center. By the end of his stay and his final discharge from Cedars he came up to me and hugged me. When he pulled back you could see the tears in his eyes. That’s a host experience.

One day a city council member came over to my house and I said, “I cannot tell a lie” and showed the council member my welcome book, the listing of the local restaurants and places to go. The council member turned to me and said “you’re an ambassador” and I smiled. Yes I am. Proud of my city. Proud to host people and show them all the greatest things about West Hollywood. You don’t get that in a hotel.

Other types of guests are usually from overseas. Young people who cannot afford a $300 to $500 a night at the local hotels. There is not a single hotel in West Hollywood that serves this market. These guests fall in love with WeHo.. and they spend their money here at our restaurants and bars and shops. Other guests are locals, many West Hollywood residents who perhaps are moving into their new apartment on the first and need a place before their apartment is available. So many people would rather spend $100 a night for a room rather then bother a friend, crash on a couch, or trek outside the city. Lets face it, the prices of the hotels are ridiculous. And if we don’t allow short term rentals to meet this market need you can bet new large Super 8 hotels will be built somewhere, probably on the east side, and add to density and even more traffic and transients.

West Hollywood topography is also unique. Hotels like Le Parc, The Chamberlain, Le Montrose, The Charlie or Petit Ermitage among others sit in the middle of our residential neighborhoods. When I hear complaints about Airbnb transients it is not coming from owner-occupied units.

The rent stabilization rules also are very restrictive. If you rent a room in a home for more than 30 days the “tenant” could claim residence. The owner is subject to a minimum relocation fee of over $5,000. The city seems to legislate private property rights in the name of community that is an over-reach. I don’t see any difference with hosting a foreign exchange student, or hosting a tourist. And the opposite also holds true. Remember the homeowner on Poinsettia who turned a home into a drug rehab? That is legal. Remember the homeowner on Huntley who turned a home into a pre-school. That is legal. In other words there are worse things than hosting a guest in your home.

There are other factors that are important in this mix and that is the services that some people use to abuse the system. One such service is named Pillow. It places a lockbox on the home or apartment and there is no owner present. That’s abuse. Buildings such as the Dylan who are zoned for rentals and are then turned into hotels are completely wrong. Those rental buildings and rental units compromise the available housing stock. My extra bedroom does not compromise available housing stock. In fact, it has helped me stay in the community and contribute to this city in many ways.

If you own a condo you are governed by the homeowners association rules. If you are a renter your apartment is governed by your lease. I’m not sure where the city takes over and becomes the ‘police’ rather than the landlords and homeowners associations being the responsible party for the buildings they own or manage. The city’s responsibility is those large apartment buildings who are abusing their certificate of occupancy.

As the city ponders a full ban or partial ban on short -term vacation rentals it is clear that the shared economy is here to stay. At first people thought to ban Uber and Lyft but those people were short-sighted. The best way to move forward is to allow a single family homeowner who is present to rent a room in their home. Register those units. Use the tax revenue from those units to offset the compliance costs for the people who are abusing the system. Turn it into a win-win for the city, local businesses and economy travelers to share our beautiful city. Perhaps the city should take a different approach and develop a Welcome Host program. Banning short term rentals is not the answer to the future. Asking hosts to cancel the reservations made months in advance is not the right thing to do. We should put a plan in place that is effective January 1, 2017. Allow hosts to clear their reservations. Let’s not let a few greedy landlords or people who are abusing the system ruin it for honest homeowners who have a spare room and need a little extra income. The alternative would be low end hotels, probably build on the east side. Don’t you think there are enough hotels already in the city? And not one of them hits the market niche of a 20-40 year old traveler on a budget.

We are in a new age economy and the city council should realize that ‘affordable housing’ does not only apply to renters. One council member stated clearly in the last discussion. “Renting a room in your home is also part of helping make a home affordable” The costs of owning a home are going up as some of us get older and have declining incomes. Aging in place is not just for renters.

And that my friends is the story of how I bridged the gap to keep the “gayest store on earth” alive to see a better day.

Currently my room is no longer listed on Airbnb but the reservations made months in advance are being honored.

EDITOR’S NOTE: WEHOville has granted the author of this opinion piece an exception to its requirement that writers of such pieces identify themselves because his rentals may be seen as a violation of the city short-term rental ordinance.

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blueeyedboy
blueeyedboy
3 years ago

To hear that a neighbor of a host in their building has complained that all his guests, with their “rolling luggage” made it seem “like a hotel” is such a ridiculous overstatement ! A host is presumably going to have only one spare bedroom, and most guests would stay more than one night, so where is all this bothersome foot-traffic? This neighbor must be a “Gladys Kravitz ” peeking out her window all day and night because she has nothing better to do than to insert herself into the lives of her neighbors, and to “take care” of things if… Read more »

Dan Morin
Dan Morin
3 years ago

Aging in place is a total joke as long as the Ellis Act exists.

blueeyedboy
blueeyedboy
3 years ago

It is nobody’s business whom I have staying with me in my home, or what kind of arrangement I may have with them. Every tenant or homeowner may have guests in varying numbers in and out of his home at all hours, whether it’s friends, family, business associates, or someone who they just met an hour before, …….. and who is to say they cannot be allowed to do so. So now City Hall is assuming the authority to designate who may join me in my home. No! CITY HALL, STAY OUT OF MY SPARE BEDROOM!!!!!!!

Another Honest Host
Another Honest Host
4 years ago

Enoch, “Anonymous” was not breaking the law, if you are referring to “sub-leasing.” Sub-leasing refers to “a lease of property made by a person who is himself or herself a lessee or tenant of that property:”

http://www.thefreedictionary.com/sublease

“Anonymous” owns his property. He is not a tenant. Until the AirBnB ban was passed, I don’t think he was breaking any city laws. And I think I’ve made my opinion clear on what I think should be the rights of property owners who occupy their own property (see above). The ban goes too far.

Ty Geltmaker
Ty Geltmaker
4 years ago

I assume Enoch Miller’s wise comments were directed at the “anonymous” author of the original article in this thread and not my immediately previous posted comment regarding how my WeHo block is now overwhelmed with this insanity, not even masquerading as “shared economy.” The fake Ellis Act evictions followed by demolitions and construction of single mega mansions (often not sold to expected profit) end up enhancing this market-driven short-term vacation rental scam.

Enoch Miller
4 years ago

This is such an unfortunate situation that you were put into, but the fact of the matter is as much as we would like to feel for what happened you were breaking the law. It has never been allowed in the City of West Hollywood to sub-lease short term rentals. The code was not created when the AirBNB came into play it’s been that way since the beginning, and has never been allowed. This blatant disregard of the law under the guise of survival is getting old. The fact of the matter is things do happen and stuff like this… Read more »

Ty Geltmaker
Ty Geltmaker
4 years ago

Citizens and Friends: Here below as submitted to Council & Staff regarding vacation rental conundrum: Dear Councillors and Staff: Please note that 8746-48 Rangely continues to be a constant short-term vacation rental with regular comings and goings of indivuduals and groups. The same is true — you undoubtedly heard from our neighbors — at 8735 Dorrington. Literally — as James Rosen conveyed last week — while you were discussing this issue in Council Chambers yet another group “checked in” to 8746-48 Rangely. This is not “hearsay,” but valid, objective reporting of what has been happening next door to us and… Read more »

Another Honest Host
Another Honest Host
4 years ago

Rob, I’m guessing that Larry will agree with me here, but I have never, not one time, had that type of behavior in my home from my guests, or even outside my home. Perhaps you missed the point about “hosting.” I am present when they are here (I wish I could italicize this). It is a totally different situation than handing your entire property over to strangers, unattended. I think it is in people’s nature to behave when they know their owner/host is present, and if not, a good host is not going to put up with it. So, please,… Read more »

Rob Bergstein
Rob Bergstein
4 years ago

Larry, I hardly feel any pain from your side….you left out many salient facts pertaining to your personal situation. That being said, I didn’t buy my house to live next door to a hotel, I bought to live in a neighborhood with my neighbors. The constant turnover of hotel guests who don’t give a rat’s @#$#@ about any neighbors and who know they’ll be gone in a few days so they can make as much noise as they wish, leave their dogs alone in a strange home to howl until 3 a.m. when their guardians come home from the clubs….no… Read more »

Craig
Craig
4 years ago

“You don’t know me…”
Are you kidding? You ran for office and are the most frequent contributor and commenter on this site. Why the anonymous game? You weigh in on everything.

Another Honest Host
Another Honest Host
4 years ago

Ryan, thank you. Also, after watching more of Monday’s Council meeting, it appears as though D’Amico is with Duran on supporting “home sharing.” Home sharing is a different circumstance than a typical “short term rental” and therefore should be treated as such. As I mentioned before, other cities (such as Santa Monica) have recognized this. Perhaps a separate home sharing ordinance needs to be drafted. One that requires proof of residency, limits to specific property types, requires registration, and payment of occupancy taxes. Perhaps “anonymous” (with his relationships with council members) needs to work with D’Amico or Duran in drafting… Read more »

Ryan
Ryan
4 years ago

I don’t see how the portion of the ban that applies to owner-occupied room rentals helps the affordable housing crisis. As was pointed out above, taking a full-time roommate brings a whole host of city rental laws into play. People who are using AirBnB to rent a room are probably more likely to sell their home rather than deal with the byzantine laws. Given that most of the people selling their homes will have been living here for year and the home will have appreciated, them selling their home will increase income inequality in the City and will make the… Read more »