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West Hollywood May Up The Fines For Short-Term Rental Violators

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West Hollywood, like many other cities around these parts, is looking to get tough on short-term rentals. However, that may be easier said than done, WEHOville reports.West Hollywood said no to short-term rentals—the kind made exceedingly popular in the last few years by sites like Airbnb—last year. These rules officially went into effect on October 21, 2015. While some areas still allow "home-sharing," WeHo chose to disallow the renting or advertising of any home, apartment or portion thereof for any amount of time less than 31 days. This is contrast to Santa Monica, where a homeowner or renter may rent out a spare room or sleeping accommodations to a visitor so long as they get a business license, pay Santa Monica's 14% hotel tax, and are around during their renters' stays.

Having rules is all well and good, but they only count if they're being followed. According to a six-month report on the ban from WeHo's Department of Public Works, they're not. The report states that there are about 25,000 units in West Hollywood, and about 1.7 percent of them are on Airbnb right now. The report admits that it's "very difficult" to actually figure out how many there might be in total. For one, there are other sites that allow users to advertise their units. Some of these sites, including Airbnb, can be hard to navigate as they often don't show exact addresses or identifying photos. The borders of West Hollywood also add an additional challenge. Some of the advertisements saying the rental is in WeHo are actually referring to homes in Los Angeles or Beverly Hills. (Naturally, the report ascribes this error to West Hollywood's "desirability.")

So far, 158 complaints have been filed via the city's app, PublicStuff, while many other complaints have been filed in person. There have been 170 code compliance cases opened. Of those, 17 resulted in citations and 28 were closed after their owners either took advertisements down or started complying with city regulations.

Currently, violators are fined $250 for their first offense, then $450, then $850. However, a lot of landlords seemed not to care. While raising fines might deeply impact someone renting out a spare room, they might not impact a property owner renting out an entire house for a lot of money several nights a month. Therefore, WeHo is now moving towards charging 200 percent of whatever the unit costs as an initial fine, then 300 percent, then 400 percent. After that, people operating short-terms rentals could face misdemeanor charges.

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Code Compliance is currently not recommending exceptions be made for special events during which tourists are more apt to want to stay in West Hollywood, such as PRIDE or Halloween, as it would be hard to enforce rules at others times and difficult to figure out which special occasions should count. The report also states that "there are potential regulatory and enforcement questions that would need to be fully vetted" before it would be feasible to consider allowing home-sharing, like in Santa Monica.

There will be a meeting tonight at 6:30 p.m. at the City Council Chambers to discuss this report.

Meanwhile in Santa Monica, the city just convicted its first violator, Scott Shatford. He not only ran a number of short-term rentals, but he also wrote a book on how to make six figures as a 'rentalpreneur' using Airbnb. Shatford has been fined and given two years' probation, and has responded to his conviction by saying he's going to move his family to Denver, a more "progressive" city.