HOW AIRBNBS CONTRIBUTE TO THE AFFORDABILITY AND DISPLACEMENT CRISIS

airbnbwebThanks to your landlord taking advantage of the CA State Ellis Act (1985), you lost your apartment back in 2014. He claimed he wanted to take his building off the rental market and move some of his family members into the two units that were once homes for you and your longtime neighbors.

Today, you happened to be back in your old neighborhood (you had to move way out to Palmdale because you can't afford anything around here anymore). You rolled up alongside the familiar trees out front and you see people coming out the front door—both on the younger side and pulling fancy rolling suitcases. You lean out the window:

"Hello—Do you both live in this building?"

"No, we're just in an Airbnb for the weekend."

You pull out your phone and search airbnb.com: there it is. The building where you waited for months for repairs, swatted roaches, now all scrubbed up and shining and looking more like a $150-per-night sitcom stage-set for an L.A. apartment than anything matching your old home.

How could this happen? How could the city let your landlord kick you out and replace you with tourists—wasn't he supposed to move his grandfather and sister in? You spent so much of your life in that neighborhood. Maybe he eventually sold the building... but how could the new owners legally use it this way?

The scenario is all too familiar around the city. Unfortunately, lack of enforcement and purposeful ignorance of the chain of events that follows an Ellis Act eviction are two of the biggest issues the L.A. Tenants Union has encountered with the city's Housing + Community Investment Department and why we advocate for the repeal of the law. Landlords have to either demolish a building or permanently remove it from the rental market, and several have convinced themselves that the stipulation somehow gives them the right to turn buildings into hotels.

All around the state, the mechanisms turn perfectly to kick you out of your home as fast as possible, but when it comes to ensuring that a property owner's stated reasons for using the Ellis Act and serving you a no-fault eviction are legit, HCID and other agencies always seem to be understaffed and incapable.

The Anti-Eviction Mapping Project and the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, among many others, have tracked the rise of both Airbnb rentals and Ellis Act evictions. In a 2016 study published by Harvard, it was found that over half of the listings in the city were concentrated in Venice, Downtown, Miracle Mile, Hollywood, Hollywood Hills, Echo Park and Silver Lake, which you certainly recognize as some of our most extremely gentrified and expensive neighborhoods.

It is and has been illegal to rent a unit in L.A. for less than 30 days unless you are a licensed hotel operator. Until December, that fact had not stopped the listing of thousands upon thousands of short-term rentals and the continued displacement of tenants like you,  wasting away our affordable housing stock like golf courses wasting water. City Attorney Mike Feuer indeed has sued some of the more egregious scofflaws to try to make an example, but the numbers show that hasn't deterred many low-level violators.

Finally, this July, a new ordinance will take effect that says hosts must register with the city and, without a hotelier license, only someone's primary residence (the place you live half the year) can be used for Airbnb-type short-term rentals (ex. the extra room in your house or in your two-bedroom apartment)—investment properties (like an apartment building owned by a landlord in a different, wealthier side of town) cannot. Without special permission, the ability to rent out a room in your home would be capped at 120 days per year with $1,000 fines for hosts who exceed or fail to register.

Even more significantly, any unit under the city's Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO) will NOT be eligible for home sharing sites like Airbnb. So you can  only use that extra room in your two-bedroom place if your unit is not under RSO. For Angelenos, that means that units designated for the protection of tenants against displacement can continue being protected—any incentive to use the Ellis Act that is taken away is a victory for working renters.

Two concerns, however: 1. Airbnb is pushing back, saying they won't share data the city would need to track listings if L.A. doesn't back off the residence restriction and allow owners to list secondary residences or investment properties (i.e. vacation rentals); 2. Councilmembers Herb Wesson and Marqueece Harris-Dawson have supported this push back, asking for an amendment that would indeed allow second residences and investment properties to be used. It looks like the whole council will also soon consider exceptions to the blanket ban on RSO units.

Will the city council immediately undo its own new restrictions? (According to the Times, several members of the council have earned money themselves from listing their extra units!)

Will enforcement of this ordinance be as lax as that of confirming that property owners aren't exploiting the Ellis Act, a law that was supposedly designed for mom-and-pop landlords to quit the rental business but has been increasingly utilized post-Recession as a tool for Wall St. speculation? (See antievictionmap.com for more data showing the Ellis Act and Airbnb working hand-in-hand)

We'll have to see. A landlord in Venice recently was ordered to turn his Airbnb building back into RSO units (thumbs up!); yet mostly vacant luxury towers in Hollywood, keep promising Airbnb users the opportunity to enjoy a "Charming View and Cozy Apartment by Walk of Fame" oblivious to, or willfully ignorant of, their role in gentrification.

Tourism is of course an industry in this city like entertainment or oil or the port. But Angelenos wouldn't sit quietly if China Shipping or Warner Bros. were driving people out of their neighborhoods and tenants will not cede L.A. to landlords looking to replace residents with selfie-taking visitors.

The L.A. Tenants Union says that the city has an affordability and displacement crisis (it's a more honest representation than the developer-friendly "housing crisis"). When we see people kicked out of their homes and then see tourists coming and going from those same homes, we ask who benefits—certainly not the renters who make up over 50% of this city!  If you're facing an Ellis Act eviction or know of illegal home sharing in your neighborhood, let us know and get involved to fight back! (latenantsunion.org)
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Established in August of 2008 by writerartist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.

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