Nearly half of short-term rentals in Los Angeles may be illegal

(Getty; Illustration by The Real Deal)

Almost half of the roommates in Los Angeles could be illegal.

That’s the conclusion of a new study that found the city’s enforcement of a three-year-old law aimed at regulating short-term rentals on platforms such as Airbnb has been weak, while frauds have become more common, List reported.

Nearly half of recent listings on Airbnb and Vrbo appeared to violate city ordinance, says the study by David Wachsmuth, professor of urban planning at McGill University.

David Wachsmuth of McGill University
David Wachsmuth of McGill University

“Los Angeles is one of many cities that has short-term rental rules that, on paper, look pretty good,” Wachsmuth said. “But what I find in practice when I dig into the data is that the LA rules aren’t being enforced effectively.”

The study found that around 45% of recent listings on Airbnb and Vrbo likely violated Los Angeles’ home-sharing law.
He concluded the city could have collected up to around $300 million in fines last year due to violations – but imposed less than $40,000 in fines.

At the same time, the study found that short-term rentals took 2,500 homes off the market for long-term residents.

In response to the report, LA City Councilman Bob Blumenfield on Friday introduced a motion asking various city departments to investigate the study’s findings and report on future enforcement plans.

“The laws are clear and the city must do more to ensure those who deliberately bend the rules are held accountable,” Blumenfield said in a statement emailed to public radio affiliate website KPCC/89.3. FM.

Representatives from Airbnb and Vrbo denied that their platforms allow large-scale flouting of LA’s home-sharing law, while one questioned the study’s source of funding .

“We’re proud of the tools we’ve built in partnership with the City of Los Angeles to help authorities enforce local rules,” Airbnb spokesperson Sam Randall told LAist in a statement.

The town planning department, responsible for enforce home sharing regulationsdid not respond to questions about the study.

But a department spokesperson said the number of short-term listings in Los Angeles has been down sharply since the city began enforcing the law in late 2019. The person noted that listings across all online platforms Lodging in Los Angeles fell 78% from 36,600 listings in November. 2019 at 8,000 on November 24.

Wachsmuth’s study also noted the decline. But he largely attributed it to the global tourism crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, not the city’s regulatory changes.

In order to do business legally in Los Angeles, short-term rental operators must register with the city and post their registration number in online listings.

The study compared Airbnb and Vrbo listings to a database of valid registration numbers provided by the city. He found that many listings showed invalid or expired registration numbers.

Other listings had valid registration numbers but likely broke the rules, the study found. Some listings appeared to be booked more than 120 days a year, even though they lacked the city’s required permit for “extended” home sharing.

In total, the study estimates that 45% of ads posted in August were likely in violation of Los Angeles’ home-sharing law.

“More and more hosts are realizing, ‘You know what, you can just get away with it,'” Wachsmuth said.

The study was commissioned and funded by Better Neighbors LA, a coalition that seeks to combat illegal short-term rentals. The group includes a union representing local hotel workers. Wachsmuth said the group had no influence on the study’s conclusions.

Edward Kung, professor of economics at California State University — Northridge, who conducted his own research on short term rentalssaid the study’s finding “that Airbnb is reducing rental stock and increasing rents is certainly consistent with previous academic findings.”

— Dana Barthelemy

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