Housing Policy

Los Angeles Contemplates Rules to Harm AirBnb Hosts and Guests


Los Angeles is considering leaning on the short-term rental-finding service Airbnb to help the city find and punish people disobeying laws that generally provide little genuine public service but merely punish property owners and short-term tenants for trying to make a mutually beneficial deal.

The city's planning commission is currently considering rules that would demand AirBnb turn over information about the property owners using their service, to help the city enforce regulations against them.

joeltelling via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

AirBnb spokesperson Aliscon Schumer told the Los Angeles Times that the proposed rules would be "a step backward, putting consumer privacy at great risk by requiring online platforms to give the government unfettered access to confidential user data without any idea of how that information would be used." 

The main way it would be used, of course, would be to try to punish them for using their property in ways the city disapproves.

The Times sums up the main elements of the proposal:

People would be able to rent out only their primary residence, defined as the place they live at least six months out of the year. Hosts could rent out only that home, or a room within it, for up to 90 days annually.

They would be barred from offering apartments that fall under rent stabilization or affordable-housing covenants, and would have to pay the same kind of lodging taxes as hotels, which would go into a city fund for affordable housing…..

The proposal hinges on a registration system: Hosts would be given an official number that would have to be displayed in online listings. If they failed to do so, they could be fined —and so could the websites they use.

Hosts would be charged at least $200 daily for advertising a rental that lacked a registration number or otherwise broke the rules, while the websites would face fines of $500 a day.

Other violations could trigger stiffer fines: Hosts who rented out a room or home beyond the number of days allowed could be docked $2,000 per day. The websites, in turn, could be penalized $1,000 per day for refusing to turn over addresses of rentals that failed to register with the city…..

the city planning commission will take up the proposal in June. If approved, the law would then have to be vetted by the City Council.

The usual series of public hearing packed with angry "interested parties" proceeded the attempted rulemaking. Right now, such rentals are straight up illegal in much of L.A., the city insists, but those laws are also hard to enforce.

Anti-AirBnb activists insist they aren't out to harm the occasional person trying to make ends meet by turning a spare room into something useful, but are fighting the sinister shadow of landlords with lots of properties who have chosen, rather than renting them long-term, to turn them into effective "de facto hotels" that are alleged to harm the quality of life of neighbors and the city's overall rental availability and prices.

Yale Law Professor Gideon Yaffe, who lives in L.A. and uses AirBnb as both host and guest, laid out the reasons most citizens should be wary of this regulatory attempt in an L.A. Times op-ed

Yaffe makes it clear the proposed ordinance would really just be destroying thousands of small businesses in L.A.—those in the business of renting out short-term lodging.

AirBnb is good not just for the host and guest (though that should be a sufficient reason to allow people to use their property in the ways they wish minus direct and real harm to some one else's person or property):

Airbnb rentals don't just benefit the visitors who use them and the hosts who make money from them. They also bring free-spending tourist traffic into neighborhoods lacking hotels, in parts of the city visitors usually miss. Airbnb enables residents of neighborhoods such as the Hollywood Hills, Echo Park and Silverlake to house guests within walking distance of their homes.

It might be that AirBnb's ability for landlords to make use of property in ways other than standard long-term rentals could contribute to the city's very expensive rents and relatively small available stock, though Yaffe says that the extent to which it does play a role isn't yet known. (This is despite one article in a Harvard student publication using information from a political enemy of Airbnb that has not yet been subject to normal scientific scrutiny which suggests it contributes to up to 3 percent rental price increases.)

In many cases, Yaffe suggests, AirBnb rents out spaces, like guesthouses with no kitchen or laundry available, that would be unlikely to be normal rentals in any case.

Yaffe also points out:

restricting Airbnb rentals could have the perverse effect of punishing victims of the rental crisis. Many Airbnb hosts are renters who manage to pay their inflated rents on time thanks to income generated by subletting part of their space through Airbnb. The proposed ordinance, which would permit only owners, not renters, to host through Airbnb, could force many people currently renting apartments in the city to relocate.

Yaffe is not completely opposed to the idea that AirBnb might require more rules, but thinks the city doesn't know enough yet to do so intelligently. 

Reason on AirBnb.