Los Angeles Is Cracking Down On Vacation Rentals — Finally

A woman browses the site of US home sharing giant Airbnb on a tablet. (John MacDougall/AFP via Getty Images)

As of today, your Airbnb host in the city of Los Angeles should not be peddling more than one home. After four years of wavering, Los Angeles city officials are enforcing new rules on short-term (or vacation) rental platforms like Airbnb and HomeAway starting Nov. 1.

People wishing to rent out their home, or part of it, on a short-term basis are required to register with the City of Los Angeles and pay a fee of $89 annually.

Home-sharing hosts are limited to one listing only, and it must be their primary residence. The new rules also generally limit home-sharing to 120 days per year, although hosts can apply for an "extended home-sharing" registration, which costs $850 per year.

L.A.'s ordinance went into effect in July, but the city delayed enforcement until now to allow hosts extra time to register.

L.A. is the state's largest vacation rental market, and the battle over regulations of rental platforms has dragged out much longer than other, popular vacation destinations like San Francisco, Santa Monica, and West Hollywood.

The rulemaking process was politically contentious and pitted an unlikely alliance of hotels and tenant activists against tech platforms and local property owners. The result was a total regulatory vacuum where short-term rental operators essentially had free reign.

Airbnb and rival rental platforms cut to the heart of the region's housing crisis. On one hand, property owners can earn extra cash to make ends meet by renting out spare bedrooms, or even their whole residence while they're away. On the other hand, in an already tight housing market, vacation rentals remove units that might otherwise be available as permanent homes.

Landlords and commercial operators can often make more money by leasing an apartment to tourists than they can leasing to actual residents. In 2017, city officials estimated that up to 10,000 housing units in Los Angeles were being used primarily for vacation rentals.

In some instances, entire apartment buildings have been converted into de-facto hotels.

WHAT HAPPENS IF PEOPLE IGNORE THE RULES?

Failing to comply with the rules can result in steep fines, as follows:

  • $500/day for listing a vacation rental without registering.
  • $2,000/day for listings beyond the 120-day cap.

The rental platform itself can also be fined $1,000 per day for enabling listings that aren't compliant with L.A.'s rules.

Will the city actually enforce the ordinance? We'll soon find out. Airbnb, the largest vacation rental operator in Southern California, has spent millions of dollars lobbying L.A.'s civil servants and elected officials over the past couple years.

Speaking to KPCC's Take Two program, the deputy director of L.A. city's planning department Tricia Keane said enforcement will come soon.

"If we see illegal or noncompliant listings, we will be sending letters to all of those hosts letting them know what they need to do to get into compliance," Keane said. "We want to be very reasonable about this."

She said that once a host gets a letter, they will have about 30 days to comply with the city rules, or else face fines.

CAN WE EXPECT THE RULES TO REMAIN?

Other cities have had similar rules for much longer than L.A. Santa Monica first passed limits on vacation rentals in 2015, and federal courts have consistently upheld the city's ordinance, despite challenges.

However, Airbnb has asked Los Angeles to delay enforcement of its new rules. The platform says it needs more time to build a data system to share information with city officials.

As of end-October, Keane said the planning department had received about 4,500 applications for home-sharing and registered about 4,200 of them.

By contrast, Keane said the planning department had counted close to 24,000 unique listings at one point during the rulemaking process.

"We have seen several hundred more come in in the last couple of days," Keane said. "We will be sending out notifications to anyone who isn't registered, or isn't operating in compliance with our ordinance to encourage them to get into compliance."