Venice has become the epicenter of Los Angeles’ fight for short-term rentals. Call it the Airbnb problem

Every summer weekend, Venice Beach is the quintessential urban beach carnival: exhilarating, loud, funky and diverse. No wonder Ocean Front Walk is one of the state’s top attractions: it’s amazing fun and it’s 100% free.

But unlike other tourist sites – say Disneyland or Universal CityWalk – Venice is still primarily a residential area. For this reason, Venice has become the epicenter of Los Angeles’ struggle for short-term rentals, what you might call the Airbnb problem.

To get a feel for it, I took what some local housing activists dubbed a guided tour of Venice “Lost Housing” on Saturday afternoon. In four hours, I visited half a dozen buildings on or near the boardwalk that have been converted, without a permit, from long-term rental apartments to short-term rentals, or – yes – let’s call – the way they really do are: hotels.

If you’re wondering why the rental housing market in a place like Venice Beach is so tight, look no further than your nearest laptop. Turn it on and find dozens of websites advertising hotels and homes “steps from the sand.”

These places, moreover, are not spare rooms, guest rooms or accommodation offered by owners who wish to cover part of their summer trip to France. These are apartment buildings and entire homes that have been converted to short-term rentals by displacing long-term tenants.

Inside Airbnb is a website that tracks Airbnb’s impact on the city’s rental stock. He estimates that at least 76% of Airbnb rentals in Venice (or 1,582 out of 2,085 listings) are entire houses or apartments, which means, essentially, that these units have been taken off the rental market at a time when the Housing shortage in the city is Topic A on the lips of all politicians.

(The number of units converted is almost certainly higher because not all “hotels” that have been converted from an apartment building use the Airbnb platform.)

I hate to break it to fans of Harry Perry, the turbaned bard and roller skater from Venice Beach, but the sound of rolling suitcases threatens to supplant his wailing guitar as the soundtrack to Ocean Front Walk.


Venice Suites on Ocean Front walk was once a rent-stabilized apartment building with 32 units that are now rented out as hotel rooms. Its owner has been notified by the city that the hotel is not legal.

(Robin Abcarian/Los Angeles Times)

My visit started at the Ellison, at 15 Paloma Ave. It’s early Twentieth-century brick building, with two side-by-side buildings, exterior hallways, and spectacular water views.

Tenants occupied all of Ellison’s 57 rent-stabilized units. Now, there are about 12 left, recalcitrant in a building cited by the city of Los Angeles for an illegal hotel operation. (Building owner Lance Robbins vigorously disputes the complaint.)

A few blocks south on Ocean Front Walk, we entered Venice Beach Suites, a 30-unit rent-stabilized building whose rooms are now occupied by tourists and travelers. “Are there any apartments available here?” someone asked the receptionist. “No,” he answered. “It’s a hotel. No stay longer than 21 days.

On Rose Avenue, near the southern border of Santa Monica, I walked into two places. Air Venice owned 59 rent-stabilized apartments. It is now a hotel. The other, the Rose Hotel, was also an apartment building, with 25 rent-stabilized apartments.

One of my guides, Bruce Kijewski, 68, has lived in Ellison for 40 years. He pays $1,640 a month for his 450-square-foot apartment, a fifth-floor corner unit with spectacular ocean and mountain views.

Over the past few years, Kijewski said, the landlord has cleared housing of tenants — either through attrition or eviction — in order to create “The Ellison Suites,” a tourist hotel.

Maids with cleaning carts roam the hallways; people with suitcases come and go in a constant stream. The noise of the renovation is constant, and the landlord regularly hosts amplified concerts in the inner courtyard, which Kijewski says acts both as a draw for tourists and a way to torture recalcitrant tenants like himself.

“It’s deliberate, militarized chaos,” Kijewski said. “They’re using the noise as a weapon to try to get us out.”

Apparently tourists don’t like it very much either. Ellison’s Yelp reviews are atrocious.


Lawyer Amanda Seward and Bruce Kijewski in front of The Ellison. Seward works with Keep Neighborhoods First and has represented tenants of The Ellison in eviction lawsuits.

(Robin Abcarian/Los Angeles Times)

It took bands like Keep Quarters First years to Start the fire under municipal authorities. “I’ve always been involved in human rights issues,” said the group’s co-founder, Judy Goldman. “Housing is such a fundamental human right.

Two years after it began looking for ways to control short-term rentals, the Los Angeles City Council has again no ordinance to regulate them. A draft ordinance has been drawn up, but it is unclear when the city council will vote, or how these rentals will be limited.

Last year, City Attorney Mike Feuer filed civil affairs against two Venice ownersamong other things, alleging that they are illegally operating hotels that should be rental accommodation.

“In a city that is suffering from a severe shortage of affordable housing, the illegal conversion of rental housing into hotels must end,” Feuer said at the time. “My office will continue to intervene to keep rent-stabilized housing on the market and hold landlords accountable if they break the law.”

The cases have not been resolved.

One of the accused, Andy Layman, 69, owns the Venice Beach Suites on Ocean Front Walk near the famous Venice Skate Park. He operated it as a hotel for years, claiming it was its original use when it was built in 1912. In 1986 he purchased the building out of foreclosure, thinking that with 40 feet of frontage on the walk, it would be worth something. A day. Even then, it had been an apartment building for decades.

All of his tenants eventually left voluntarily, he said, and he began investing money to create what his website describes as “a boutique hotel with 24 fully furnished rooms.” queen bed studio with mini kitchens and private bathrooms and exposed red brick walls and hardwood floors in the heart of Venice Beach.”

Unlike some of the other landlords the city is looking for, Layman said, “I’m a mother-and-mother-operated small independent property. It’s the only property I have.

Maybe so, but he turned his building into a hotel and only asked permission after the city sued him.


I called Roy Samaan, a research and policy analyst for the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, a progressive organization that lobbied for an increase in the city’s minimum wage in 2015. Also that year , Samaan wrote a much sought after report about the detrimental effects that short-term rentals were having on Los Angeles neighborhoods.

I asked him the obvious and obnoxious question: Venice is expensive now. Why shouldn’t landlords be able to get rid of rent-stabilized tenants in order to maximize their profits?

There are two answers, he says. The first is practical, the second existential.

First, the city has developed processes — ward councils, hearings, permits, etc. — intended to govern land use. You can’t simply take a rental-stabilized building off the market because you want to create a hotel.

As for the second problem: “It comes down to why people want to go to Venice in the first place,” Samaan said. “There are a lot of coasts but Venice is a hotspot, it’s unique, and you have to wonder why. If we keep losing affordable housing and displacing people, you change what makes Venice Venice.

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