Planning Commission Wants Refinements to Ban on Airbnb Soliciting Hosts

West Hollywood’s Planning Commission on Thursday night delayed voting on an ordinance that would make it illegal to solicit residents to become hosts for short-term rental services like Airbnb, saying the item needed to be refined.

The ordinance was intended to prevent short-term rental companies from approaching people about hosting for the service. However, the commissioners felt the ordinance as written was so broad, a bus driving through West Hollywood with an advertisement for Airbnb on the side could be considered in violation.  

Image of Airbnb mailer soliciting hosts

The City Council banned short-term rentals in rent-stabilized apartment buildings in March 2018 but did allow it for homeowners who want to rent out their extra bedrooms to short-term guests. However, those homeowners must obtain a home-sharing business license from the city. To date, only 24 people have obtained such a license.

Code compliance manager Danny Rivas showed a solicitation email that Airbnb recently sent to a resident encouraging him to host. The email said in part, “Earn money on your terms and timeline.” Rivas explained this was the type of solicitation the ordinance was trying to prevent.

The Commission felt the intention of the ordinance was good, but the lines were “blurry,” as Commissioner Lynn Hoopingarner phrased it.  

As the ordinance was written, the only people whom a short-term service could legally contact about hosting are those who already have a home-sharing license. It would be illegal to contact a homeowner who has not yet registered with the city. Thus, there are currently only 24 people in the city a short-term hosting service could legally contact.

Commissioner Adam Bass said the ordinance’s definition of “solicitation” was far too broad. The ordinance said, “‘solicit’ or ‘solicitation’ shall mean in-person, written, electronic and telephone-marketing communication.”

Bass pointed out by that definition two neighbors talking about Airbnb could be considered in violation. He posed an example of a homeowner who hosts Airbnb guests and is registered with the city recommending to another homeowner who is not registered that hosting is a great way to earn extra money.

“How can we make it illegal for me to suggest you do something that’s legal?” asked Bass.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Sue Buckner questioned how the city could possibly enforce such an ordinance.

“What’s the point? I don’t see how you can enforce it,” said Buckner. “What’s the point of having laws on the books that are very difficult and almost impossible to enforce?”

City Attorney Lauren Langer explained this ordinance would be another tool for the city to use to crack down on illegal short-term rentals.

The ordinance as written did not contain any specifics about a penalty such as a fine for violation. Buckner said without any “teeth” the ordinance was meaningless.

“Something like Airbnb to pay a $50 fine is not going to stop them. What’s the consequence?” said Buckner.

Langer replied a $50 fine for one email might be inconsequential, but if the city collected thousands of solicitation emails, then the fine would have some bite.

The Commission recommended city staff revise the ordinance based on their comments and return at a future date.

To obtain a home-sharing business license, a person must prove they own the home and will be living in the home during the time the short-term guests are renting a room there. The cost of a home-sharing license is $100 for initial registration. Yearly renewals of that license are $50.

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About James F. Mills
James F. Mills has reported on West Hollywood extensively for over a decade, notably serving as the editor of AOL’s West Hollywood Patch website. His journalism has also appeared in LA Weekly, Backstage West, Notes From Hollywood, Gay Star News and Frontiers magazine, among others. A North Carolina native, he moved to California as soon as he finished graduate school at UNC-Chapel Hill and has never looked back.

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Vigilant
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Vigilant

A prerequisite for holding ANY position in West Hollywood whether elected, appointed or hired should be a serious course in both logic and ethics with a stiff exam.

Michael Grace
Guest
Michael Grace

This seems to involve freedom of speech. Are you telling me that the City of West Hollywood is going to tell me who I can communicate with? This collection of tree hugging hypocritical political hacks and their commission members! LOL

Josh Kurpies
Guest
Josh Kurpies

A City can regulate the communications between a company and myself? That is surprising to me and raises more concerns for me than the actual issue at hand. I understood our local ordinances in place now prohibit the rental of the unit by the platform AND prohibits even the listing of the West Hollywood property (unless the proper permit is obtained). It seems like it’d be fairly easy to establish whether someone is violating the law that prohibits someone from posting an unpermitted unit. We should enforce our current laws and fine the hell out of the residents’/owners who are… Read more »

Cleanup WEHO
Guest
Cleanup WEHO

How can you trust any group, like the planning commission, that is totally in the hands of developers? Put there by pay to play council members who sell their votes to developers? Like John “Grindr” Duran aka ”I pay-no taxes on time.” Now this planning commission proposes stopping advertising and solicitations? Is this “commission” proposing a new team at City Hall paid a fortune to be the watchdogs? When they can’t even prohibit or even watch out for gas blowing gardeners as per another comment. And it’s not only on the Eastside, its on Laurel Avenue where Ed buck operated… Read more »

Rex
Guest
Rex

Commercial email marketing occurs not only by brands, but also on behalf of brands by third party marketing partners. The way email marketing works most brand and their affiliates do not always know the physical address or zip code of the recipient, so their ability to properly suppress any email address of an individual living within the City of West Hollywood would be near impossible. Furthermore, it will be quite difficult, time consuming, and frankly a waste of our tax revenues for The City of West Hollywood to even try to enforce such a ban. This sounds more like City… Read more »

Jim Nasium
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Jim Nasium

Catering to their donors?! Weho residents want neighbors living next door, not hotel guests. You’re really out of touch, or from out of town.

Rex
Guest
Rex

If you re-read my post…I am not advocating for or against AirBnBs existing in WeHo. I am specifically referencing the fact that City Council is trying to regulate the use of commercial email marketing to solicit AirBnB hosts within the City of WeHo. My post briefly touches on the difficulty of excluding WeHo homeowners in what are national and/or state level campaigns. If City Council wants to regulate AirBnB – I am ok with that. I just think that there should be some better due diligence in how to best regulate…and to implement policies/laws that are easily enforceable vs difficult,… Read more »

Vigilant
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Vigilant

Good move. However, when this item first appeared the impression of restricting the bogey man and thought police came to mind. It would be excellent to improve this but also for the city to demonstrate it had control over the ordinance in place for some time, to prevent gas powered leaf blowers.

Alison
Guest
Alison

Huh? Your last sentence is confusing at best. I think I understand what you are saying. Is it that the City does not demonstrate any control over the use of gas-powered leaf blowers? Because they don’t. The East Side gardeners still use them all the time!

Vigilant
Guest
Vigilant

“has” inadvertently became “had”, a simple typo. My sincere apology.