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Surprise! Airbnb Sues Santa Monica Over Short Term Rental Laws

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Airbnb filed a lawsuit against the city of Santa Monica on Friday, arguing that the city's rules enacted to regulate short-term rentals are unconstitutional. As the L.A. Times reports, Airbnb's suit argues city law violates both the 1st (free expression) and 4th (unlawful search and seizure) amendments of the Constitution.

Santa Monica first passed stringent rules governing (and basically eliminating) short term rentals within the city itself in May of 2015. While Santa Monica stopped short of completely banning Airbnb (and Airbnb like services), the city's legislation makes it basically impossible for "hosts" to lease any sort of property aside from an extra bedroom inside a house the host also lives in. And even in that instance, the host would have to register with Santa Monica for a business license, pay the city's 14 percent hotel tax and remain at the site whenever the tenant is there too. The rules require Airbnb to also disclose the names and addresses of hosts within the city.

While most of the legislation is aimed at discouraging individual hosts, Curbed L.A. points out that Airbnb may be held liable for failing to remove the listings of any hosts who violate the city's rules.

Evidently Airbnb doesn't like any of this. The lawsuit filed on Friday seeks, basically, to eliminate any municipal legislation in Santa Monica, and to allow Airbnb to continue connecting hosts to short-term tenants unencumbered. As Alison Schumer, a spokesperson for Airbnb, explained to the Times: "Santa Monica's clumsily written law punishes hosts who depend on home sharing to make ends meet and travelers looking for low-cost accommodations near the beach... The city is unwilling to make necessary improvements to its draconian law, so while this isn't a step we wanted to take, it’s the best way to protect our community of hosts and guests."

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The goal of Santa Monica's legislation is to eliminate so-called "rentalpreneurs", people who use services like Airbnb to lease out several units that, critics argue, would otherwise be used as housing stock in L.A.'s historically tight rental market. For example, a group of evicted tenants sued their former landlord last December, after their old homes showed up in Airbnb's listing pages.

In early July Santa Monica busted its first "rentalpreneur", earning a no-contest plea of operating illegal rentals from the boisterous Scott Shatford. Shatford had previously voiced that he was "not concerned" about Santa Monica's rules, claiming it wouldn't be possible for the city to enforce them. In fact, the city has extracted $20,000 from Airbnb in late July, after enforcing its short term lease laws precisely 893 times, according to KPCC

Santa Monica is the third city Airbnb has sued over local legislations. In late July, the company sued Anaheim for its strict short-term rental rules, just as its done in the company's hometown of San Francisco.