West Hollywood Planning Commission recommended the passage of a proposed zone text amendment to West Hollywood’s vacation rental policy to the City Council at last night’s regular Planning Commission meeting. They also recommended that the Council consider the adequacy of the existing fee structure when administered to short-term rental platforms. The City’s current ordinance completely bans un-hosted short-term rentals and is one of the strongest short-term rental policies in the state. While the City already has the authority to enforce the existing regulations, the proposed amendments will make enforcing the Ordinance easier.
“I think this is a really good first step, and so I am in support of all of this, but I do think it is a first step,” Planning Commissioner Michael A. Lombardi. “I can tell you I’ve even experienced issues relating to this firsthand in the City where there are rentals going on that should not have been.”
The proposed amendment specifically addresses a new “bait and switch” tactic used by hosts to skirt the regulations in both West Hollywood and Los Angeles. The new scheme involves hosts of short-term rental units falsely advertising the location of their rental to avoid detection by Los Angeles Enforcement Agencies. Because the Los Angeles Planning Department does not monitor listings which purport to be outside city limits, hosts who misrepresent the unit’s location online are able to illegally list rent-controlled properties. To execute this tactic hosts input a West Hollywood address into their STR listing, and message guests the real address after booking.
Better Neighbors Los Angeles operates a hotline for residents to report illegal short-term rentals and started to receive complaints about short-term rentals engaged in this tactic early last summer. In May 2022, BNLA reviewed 133 STR listings advertised in West Hollywood on Airbnb and identified that 69 (54 percent) of the properties advertised in the listings were truly located in the City of Los Angeles. Less than a year later the number of hosts engaged in this tactic has substantially grown. In March 2023, BNLA inspected 100 short-term rental listings advertised on Airbnb as being located in West Hollywood and identified that 82 listings (82 percent) were actually located in Los Angeles.
Hosts engaged in this scheme are able to illegally convert housing into short-term rentals without facing consequences. The impacts of this scheme include higher rents due to a loss of housing supply, evictions from rent-stabilized apartments to convert housing to vacation rentals, and neighborhood disruption that sometimes even includes violence.
“An endless parade of strangers has me fearing for my safety as a young woman who lives alone,” said a West Hollywood resident who wishes to remain anonymous out of fear of landlord retaliation. “I am paying rent for a gated complex where now anyone has the key to come in and do whatever they want, and we have no idea who is actually in there. Because unlike a hotel, there is no license or ID provided to stay.”
The resident also expressed concern about the impact of illegal short-term rentals on the City’s housing stock.
“I am deeply unnerved by Code’s nonchalance regarding the enforcement of Airbnb,” the resident said. “They incorrectly asserted to us that long term rentals were okay in rent-controlled buildings like ours. How can we preserve affordable housing if officials aren’t even willing to regulate Airbnb?”
The bait and switch tactic makes it difficult for both the City of West Hollywood and Los Angeles to enforce their ordinances: Los Angeles can’t detect illegal listings outside of the City limits, and West Hollywood must decipher whether illegal short-term rentals they identify on platforms are located within their municipality.
The amendment will now be considered by the City Council at the Council meeting on June 26,2023. In the meantime, the City can enforce the vacation rental ordinance as it stands. Legal experts suggest an appropriate means to address this issue would be to seek injunctive relief the host and platform for violations of the West Hollywood Municipal Code under the Unfair Competition Law, California Business and Professions Code section 17200 et seq., which the City Attorney’s Office has express authority to do pursuant Section 17204.
“In the midst of an affordable housing crisis, the last thing we should be doing is sacrificing housing units by allowing short-term rentals to continue to violate a well-written, balanced regulation,” said Tori Funk, a researcher at Better Neighbors Los Angeles. “The proposed amendments will hopefully enable the City to increase enforcement.”