Citing Housing Shortage, Palo Alto Considers New Rules to Limit Airbnb Rentals | News

According to its listing, the Downtown North apartment looks clean, spacious and welcoming, with a smart TV, fully equipped kitchen and living room decor described as “sophisticated”.

At a time when Palo Alto is struggling to add new housing, the one-bedroom unit would surely be in high demand by Stanford University students, area employees, and local seniors looking to downsize. their workforce.

But like hundreds of other accommodations across the city, the apartment is not on the rental market. It is listed on Airbnb by a host, Blueground, which has 52 listings across the city. All are entire homes or apartments, according to the website, which tracks short-term rentals.

Three other local hosts each have 20 or more listings, according to the site, with homes and apartments for rent scattered across Downtown, College Terrace, Midtown and other neighborhoods.

The exact number of short-term rentals is difficult to gauge, but according to websites like Granic and Inside Airbnb, which track the market, there are between 500 and 1,000 short-term rentals in Palo Alto. Many that fetch over $300 per night. It can be a thriving business for landlords and investors, but city leaders increasingly see such housing as a problem worth solving.

Next week, city council will consider a proposal from three members — Vice Mayor Lydia Kou and council members Tom DuBois and Greer Stone — to explore new restrictions and requirements for Airbnb and other businesses that make it easier to rent at home. short term of entire houses. In the memo, the three council members note that the city currently has only about 100 vacant units among its stock of 8,057 apartments. By contrast, in September, it had 743 Airbnb listings, the memo said.

“We have more units available through Airbnb through short-term rentals than we only have rental units available in the city,” Stone told this news agency. “That’s a concern. Presumably every short-term rental unit on the market is potentially one that someone can be in long-term or permanently.”

The memo distinguishes between cases in which an owner rents out their room or entire unit to supplement their income and those in which investors “pack up as many bunk beds as possible and advertise these hidden hotels as being” in a neighborhood. quiet near beautiful parks.'”

While Palo Alto already has an ordinance prohibiting rentals of less than 30 days, the three council members are proposing additional rules and restrictions. These include requiring landlords to list their rental units in both the city’s business registry and its new rental registry, which the council voted to create in September. The memo also proposes that the city review its contract with Airbnb, which allows the business to operate but requires it to pay the transitional occupancy tax.

Fly under the radar

In Palo Alto, as elsewhere, there are concerns that some of the short-term rentals may fall under the radar and potentially circumvent existing law and use homes and apartments as de facto hotels, although no tax will flow to the city. and without accountability to neighbors.

The three council members point to actions companies have taken in the past to circumvent local laws: concealing hosts’ identities and locations from illegal listings, failing to verify hosts’ identities and refusing to provide data for the app.

“The biggest problem is when something is rented short-term and there’s no one there,” DuBois said in an interview. “If there’s a problem – if there’s litter, if there’s noise – people don’t know who to contact.”

The most ambitious proposal in the memo from council members would effectively ban short-term rentals of entire residences, a move Carmel has adopted in its residential neighborhoods. Other state jurisdictions are considering similar action, in some cases adding measures to improve transparency and in others setting caps on the number of units that can be rented out in the short term.

Monterey County, for example, is now go ahead with an order this would limit the number of “commercial vacation rentals” (properties rented more than three times in a year) to 6% of residences in any of the county’s planning areas other than Big Sur. The order would also establish new registration requirements. And the town of Pacific Grove has a map on his site showing all properties that can be rented out short term.

Not all attempts to regulate short-term rentals have gone to plan. mountain view adopted in 2019 a new law requiring hosts to register their properties with the city and pay a 10% reservation fee. From the following yearjust 61 units have been registered in a city with 860 short-term rental listings, according to a report by Mountain View Voice, a sister news agency to The Weekly.

The Palo Alto council last considered the topic of short-term rentals in 2015. While some council members supported imposing new regulations to ensure these properties pay hotel taxes, the majority finally voted not to advance this effort.

DuBois argued that the climate has changed since then, with various companies now specializing in tracking short-term rentals and helping cities regulate and enforce the law. The memo cites two companies, Granicus and Azavar, as possible partners in the new venture.

Stone argued that imposing new regulations would not only increase the city’s rental stock and help protect local neighborhoods, but would also aid the city in its economic recovery. The city has long relied on hotel taxes to finance its infrastructure. When people use unregulated short-term rentals instead of hotels, it cuts into a critical source of revenue. This is especially critical at a time when hotels are just beginning to recover from the economic pain of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has reduced occupancy rates to single digits in some cases.

“It comes down to fairness and economic prosperity,” Stone said, referring to the memo’s proposal to ban short-term rentals when landlords live offsite. “(Short-term rentals) can discourage new hotels and they can compete with hotels. Seems like a fairer trade-off to level the playing field.”

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