By Emma Rosenthal
If the current proposed home sharing ordinance in L.A. goes through, THOUSANDS of people will lose their jobs and just as many may lose their homes. What is needed is a whole new ordinance that focuses on housing rights in whole house listings that preserves home sharing in primary residences. There are some simple win/win solutions even if the L.A. City Council decides to pass this draconian proposal in order to at least preserve the housing stability and jobs current home sharing empowers.
Home sharing is a social movement that came out of the housing and jobs crisis of the last ten years where more and more people were finding themselves outside of the mainstream workforce and displaced from their housing either via foreclosures, evictions or rising rents and decreasing income streams and job opportunities. Home sharing provided many people with the means to keep their homes and provide income for their households. Home sharing is quite literally a cottage industry made up mostly of home based hosts renting out rooms in their homes, sometimes the sofa in the living room, to people who are traveling or in search of transitional housing. In Los Angeles, home sharing is the only alternative between the 12 month lease and the $300 hotel room, providing affordable temporary housing not only to tourists, but also to people on temporary work or business travel, conventioneers, students, temporarily displaced locals, visiting family members of current city residents. Many of these guests report that they would not be able to afford a decent hotel room in this city.
It is unknown how vast and devastating the impact of this ordinance would be on the local economy because this industry has developed without the assistance, planning or direction of the city government. This cottage industry provides employment and housing to not only hosts, but to the thousands of small businesses and their employees as well as contractors and subcontractors and local businesses that rely on home sharing and serve home sharing hosts including local restaurants and shops, house cleaners, house cleaning businesses, street vendors, gardeners, landscapers, exterminators, delivery services, repair people, handy workers, etc. Meanwhile, this city has done more for the hotel industry and developers than it has in response to the crisis of foreclosure, eviction and loss of jobs.
In the last few months the Planning Department has produced three reports on home sharing. The first report demonstrated:
- that the number of units that are currently available as short term housing amounts to less than 1% of the available housing stock and has no measurable impact on housing availability and affordable rental stock.
- That the number of nuisance complaints are minimal, and that of the 419 complaints opened from March 2015-September of 2017, regarding short term rentals in apartments, only 133 cases have been closed and a 286 remain open with only 12 cases referred to the City Attorney’s office.
- In single family homes in a 4 year period there were less than 200 STR-related complaints city wide.
- That host occupied listings have few if any complaints and that the problems that do exist, are for the most part, in whole unit listings.
- That any registration process should be as simple, affordable and accessible as possible for hosts to register their listings with the city so as to allow for the greatest of compliance among short term rental hosts.
- To coordinate and use existing offices HCIDLA, LADBS, Office of Finance and the City Attorney’s office in the registration and enforcement process.
That is to say that the two main concerns related to home sharing:
- impact on housing stock and rents, and
- nuisances in the community,
are for the most part unfounded. They are the imagination of the hotel industry lobby, which has by far a much more significant impact on housing availability and rising housing costs, and those Angelenos who don’t want to share their city; often the same wealthy landowners that have lobbied to keep the public off of public beaches, public hiking trails and public street, and the few NGOs who are tightly aligned with these interests, including NGOs who receive hundreds of thousands of dollars to inspect rental units. There is only one union on record, opposing home sharing: the company union of the hotel industry, while many of the hosts represent retired union and nonunion workers, often retired teachers who served generations of L.A. children, and film industry workers who need to be able to rent their homes out short term, while they are away on location.
Nonetheless, the subsequent reports from the same office, developed more stringent recommendations including:
- Expensive and complicated registration processes that would make home sharing tougher for low income hosts in less luxurious listings.
- Strict enforcement criteria that doesn’t exist for any other business model in the city including the thousands of home based businesses that are not involved in home sharing.
- A snitch program where neighbors are encouraged to report and even give approval for the establishment and continued licensing of home sharing businesses, a process not applied to any other business model (with the exception of the yet unpassed recent proposals for street vendors, making the “snitch” clause a cause for concern that could leave low income, small businesses subject to extortion and abuse.)
- A cap on the number of days hosts could operate their listing and “break even” algorithms to discourage home sharing and encourage renting out space long term (Algorithms that don’t take into account labor and expenses or apply to less expensive, less luxurious listings). Such caps and “break even” limitations are not part of any other existing business model. (Additionally, coercing people into long term cohabitation arrangements is cruel and dangerous especially since so many hosts are elders, women, low income families with small children, DISabled people and people with chronic health conditions, all groups that are targets for domestic abuse.)
- Huge fines and penalties that are not applied to any existing business model or license in the city.
Once this current proposal is passed, once that bell is rung, it cannot be unrung. Destroyed lives, displaced residents, lost jobs and housing will not be recuperated months or years later when the city reconsiders its choices, once the damage becomes apparent. According to the city’s own report, the current impact of home sharing on housing stock and neighborhoods is minimal. The city already has a procedure for providing business licenses through the finance office. There are many legal home based business that already exist and operate in the city in residential areas. There is no reason for the city to develop new top heavy, expensive administrations and expensive licensing when the structures already exist to allow for new businesses.
Instead the city should either develop an entire new proposal that recognizes the value of home sharing and puts no more limitations on home sharing than it puts on any other home based and small businesses, or at the very least amend the current proposal to assure that existing jobs, businesses and housing that depend on home sharing are not lost.
- By grandfathering in all existing home sharing hosts through a simple mechanism that is affordable and accessible and is consistent with existing business licensing procedures. This would prevent any harm to existing businesses while the city enacts, administers and tests the new ordinance.
- Fund existing departments and mandate them to provide services to the residents of the city, especially in the area of tenants’ rights enforcement. The number of existing complaints, though small, that have remained unresolved is inexcusable.
- Enforce tenants rights and respond to the existing complaints that have gone unresolved for years.
- Use the Finance Department that already issues business licenses to issue the licenses for Home Sharing.
- Use HCIDLA and the City Attorney’s office to enforce tenants’ rights.
- Provide city wide tenants’ rights education and empowerment.
- Use the millions of dollars in taxes collected from home sharing to provide vital services to the city.
- Work with hosts to provide emergency and transitional housing to homeless neighbors.
- Allow home sharing in all primary residences including the RSO units with caps only applied to whole unit listings, including in residences where there are other home based income streams. (a clause in the initial ordinance that it is so broad, it would disallow any other home based work or promotion even prohibiting sharing of restaurant recommendations or business travel in short term rentals.)
- Create various affordable housing options and job creation within the city.
There have been a few larger operatives who have turned long term lodging into short term rentals and who may have abused Ellis act evictions and other means of displacing long term tenants. Establishing huge obstacles to home based hosts as a means of addressing abusive landlords has all the shortcoming of broken (window) policing and will have devastating impact on the thousands of small businesses and their employees as well as contractors and subcontractors and local businesses that rely on home sharing and serve home sharing hosts. The scope of a crackdown on home based hosts could be far reaching, especially if limits are put on the number of listings per host (many hosts rent out more than one room) or the number of days home based hosts may operate. It will be impossible for example, to maintain full time and ongoing employment if forced to operate a minimum number of days or offer only one listing.
The revenue from taxes to home sharing could serve the needs of the larger community, and while short term rental taxes are higher than any taxes applied to any small businesses in this city, many hosts are eager to contribute to the city if those taxes can provide vital services to our neighbors.
Despite the stereotype of the home sharing host, most hosts are struggling to get by. Each host is an autonomous small business. Cities who did little to address issues of displacement, supported hyper development that often contributed to displacement and did little to provide long term jobs, should at the very least, not put huge impositions on small businesses who function on such a narrow margin that any expense or imposition would put many hosts out of business.
Home sharing provides stability, jobs and economic and social dynamic to our city. Hosts who are home based provide increased security in our neighborhoods because they are home during the day when other neighbors are away. Home sharing gives character to neighborhoods and most residents support or are indifferent to home sharing in their communities. It is labor intensive, honorable work and a lifestyle choice that has created thousands of jobs, relationships and homes in L.A and around the world
October 19, 2017 http://clkrep.lacity.org/onlinedocs/2014/14-1635-S2_rpt_PLAN_10-20-2017.pdf
REPORT BACK RELATIVE TO PROPOSED HOME-SHARING ORDINANCE (COUNCIL FILES 14-1635-S2, 14-1635-S3)
January 11 2018 Report: http://clkrep.lacity.org/onlinedocs/2014/14-1635-S2_rpt_PLAN_01-12-2018.pdf
SECOND SUPPLEMENTAL REPORT BACK RELATIVE TO PROPOSED HOME-SHARING ORDINANCE (COUNCIL FILES 14-1635-S2, 14-1635-S3) On October 24, 2017 PLUM Committee CFs 14-1635-S2, 14-1635-S3 Report by the Department of City Planning to the PLUM Committee
February 8, 2018 REQUEST FOR REPORT BACK http://clkrep.lacity.org/onlinedocs/2014/14-1635-S2_misc_02-08-2018.pdf
THIRD SUPPLEMENTAL REPORT BACK RELATIVE TO PROPOSED HOME-SHARING ORDINANCE (COUNCIL FILES 14-1635-S2, 14-1635-S3)
Don’t Blame Airbnb for Rising Rents
The Sharing Economy and Housing Affordability: Evidence from Airbnb∗
Report: Airbnb restrictions could cost LA thousands of jobs and millions in revenue
LA Airbnb community generated $40 million in taxes last year
Airbnb’s economic impact in Los Angeles in 2017
Broken Policing Policies & Home Sharing
Point by Point: Community Analysis of Home Sharing Ordinance
Update 4/10/18: Latest Round In the Fight For Home Sharing
Update 4/9/18 Latest Response To the Planning Committee’s Report on Home Sharing
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