LA throws Airbnb hosts lifeline at rent-stabilized homes, but there’s a catch

Technical hurdle may temporarily prevent short-term rentals at thousands of owner-occupied homes

Council Member Mitch O’Farrell’s motion will not be automatically furled into Airbnb ordinance. (Credit: Getty Images, iStock, and Airbnb)
Council Member Mitch O’Farrell’s motion will let short-term rental platforms operate at owner-occupied homes, but not quite yet. (Credit: Getty Images, iStock, and Airbnb)

In Los Angeles, there is never complete clarity on the issue of short-term rentals.

On Wednesday, the City Council unanimously approved an eleventh-hour motion to let Airbnb and other short-term rental platforms operate at thousands of owner-occupied homes that are rent-stabilized. In addition to being a victory for those platforms, it will provide a source of extra source of income for thousands of residents who would have been prevented from renting out their homes under a new city ordinance about to take effect.

But because of a procedural quirk, those same thousands of listings across the city will soon be considered illegal. At least temporarily.

Wednesday’s Council vote was meant to reverse a blanket-ban on rent-stabilized units being used for short-term rentals. The change also affects a significant swath of L.A. short-stay hosts. More than 600,000 units in the city are rent-stabilized, and one advocacy group, Homeshare Alliance Los Angeles, estimated that about 8,000 rent-stabilized units total post on Airbnb, HomeAway, and other short-term rental platforms.

But there is a problem.

The city’s short-term rental ordinance, which has been four years in the making, is set to take effect this Friday.

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It will kick in without the latest Council motion. In order for that to take effect, the city attorney’s office must write a separate ordinance, then get the approval of the Planning Land Use and Management Committee and the full Council.

The technical extra step could take just a few days, said Christine Peters, policy director for Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, who authored the motion. But there is no set timeline for approval.

The result is that owner-occupied rent-stabilized units cannot legally register on the city’s short-term rental platform, and — starting Friday — will be violating city law.

Peters said the affected hosts are aware of their legal limbo and are “very nervous about it.” But, she added, “we are correcting it now.”

Councilman Bob Blumenfield recommended the city refrain from enforcing the short-term rental ordinance against owners at rent-stabilized units.

A message with the city attorney’s office was not immediately returned. Mayor Eric Garcetii has not weighed in on the issue, beyond a spokesman saying on Tuesday that the mayor is open to amendments changing the short-stay law.