Business & Economy

Short-term rental hosts, who use sites like Airbnb, on borrowed time in Santa Monica

An Airbnb accomodation in Santa Monica. The city's new rule on short-term rentals takes effect today.
An Airbnb accomodation in Santa Monica. The city's new rule on short-term rentals takes effect today.
Kyle Wilson/Flickr

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Santa Monica's crackdown on short-term rental operators — one of the strictest in the country — officially starts today. City leaders have said they won't start enforcing the new law right away and will instead focus on educating hosts before writing tickets. 

But that's cold comfort to some short-term rental operators. They're anxious not knowing how much more time they have before the city starts citing offenders.

"A week? A month? Or six months?" asked Robert St. Genis of the Los Angeles Short Term Rental Alliance. 

Under Santa Monica’s new law, hosts on home-sharing sites such as Airbnb and HomeAway can’t rent a place unless they’re also staying there. That effectively eliminates 1,400 or so units — about 80 percent of the listings in town, according to city estimates.  

A top city planning official has said Santa Monica won't be fully enforcing the law in its first months, with the understanding that vacationers booked their rentals before the law took effect.

But St. Genis said short-term rental operators are still left with many questions.

"What happens if someone on June 1 of this year made a reservation for next summer’s vacation has already paid for it?" he asked.

He said that some landlords have long-running relationships with guests, who book the same property year after year.

Some short-term rental hosts such as Cara Brown feel they have no choice but to follow the rules. In the past, she would rent out her home for days at a time using sites such as as Airbnb and FlipKey. She knows she won't be able to do that anymore.

"I will abide by the law," Brown said. "But I'm not going to take it laying down."

Brown said she and other short-term rental hosts plan on lobbying City Hall to roll back the law, even if it takes years of persistence.

Other hosts, according to St. Genis, plan to keep renting their units the way they always have but will advertise in less-public ways to avoid government scrutiny. For example, they might create their own rental website, or publicize by word-of-mouth.
"We don’t advise people to go underground but I can pretty well predict that’s what’s happening," St. Genis said.

Santa Monica has taken the strictest stance on home-sharing in Southern California yet. However, a nearby beach community is poised to enact even stricter regulations. The Manhattan Beach City Council plans to vote Tuesday to ban stays of 29 days or less in single family homes and multi-family/apartment units. Los Angeles council members are also examining ways to regulate the home-sharing industry.