WeHo Having a Tough Time Enforcing Short-Term Rental Restrictions

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Last year, West Hollywood became one of a growing number of Southern California cities to impose tough regulations on short-term rentals. As WeHoville reports, those restrictions made it illegal to rent homes, apartments, or even rooms for less than 31 days at a time—all but outlawing the types of rentals found on sites like Airbnb

A new report from the city’s Department of Public Works, however, indicates that these new rules are being largely ignored. According to the report, nearly two percent of WeHo’s 25,000 residential units are currently listed on Airbnb. Meanwhile, since the short-term rental restrictions went into effect in October, 158 complaints have been filed through the city’s mobile app provider. Even more complaints have been filed in-person or through other means, but the city hasn’t been keeping count of those. All told, 170 code compliance cases have been opened against properties listed on Airbnb and other sites.

The authors of the report argue that the current penalty structure for the short-term rental restrictions has been ineffective in deterring violators. Right now, the fine for a first violation is just $250—with fines of $450 and $850 for second and third violations. In part, the city’s restrictions were meant to deter landlords from taking residential units off the rental market, and such small fines seem unlikely to deter such behavior. On the other hand, the report notes that increasing fines could have an outsize effect on renters or small property owners looking to rent a single room.

As a result, the West Hollywood City Council has adopted a new fee structure that punishes violators based on the cost of the unit in question. First violations result in a fine that is 200 percent of the unit cost, with second and third violations going up to 300 and 400 percent, respectively. Subsequent violations are prosecuted as misdemeanors.

Other problems the city has faced in enforcing its short-term rental ban are simple administrative issues. The authors of the report explain, for instance, that tipsters reporting violations often leave out crucial details about listings, leaving city employees to figure out whether the violations are legitimate. As a result, the city has begun actively seeking out violators, apparently scrolling through listings on Airbnb and insideairbnb.com.

Of course, even this isn’t foolproof. Airbnb listings don’t always include specific addresses or photographs showing recognizable features of a home. Moreover, the city has found that many rental units ostensibly located in WeHo actually fall outside the city’s boundaries. Because of these issues, the authors of the report note that “it is not uncommon for Code Compliance to spend more than an hour, sometimes two, on a single listing to find the necessary information to begin the citation process.”

The report will be reviewed by the West Hollywood City Council on Monday. Recommendations of the report include the dedication of more staff time to enforcement and an outreach campaign informing residents about the details of the new restrictions. The authors also advise against possible exemptions for the short-term rental ban around holidays and city events like Halloween Carnaval and the LA Pride Parade.

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