By Emily Alpert Reyes
Los Angeles Times.
Airbnb and similar “home sharing” websites have exploded in popularity in LA, overwhelming city regulators who are struggling to collect tourist taxes and enforce long-standing restrictions on rentals.
Renting out rooms or homes for a few days or weeks is illegal in many residential areas, city planning officials say. But the building department and other city agencies say they face practical obstacles to cracking down on such rentals, as individuals and investors have flooded the app-fueled LA marketplace.
In tourist meccas such as Venice Beach, annoyed residents say entire homes are being rented out nonstop to revolving groups of guests. Some residents say they fear that the phenomenon is becoming overly commercialized, exacerbating an affordable-housing crunch as apartments and homes that housed tenants are converted to vacation rentals.
“It’s supposed to be a spare room, not corporate interests taking over our neighborhood and turning everything into a virtual hotel,” said Scott Plante, a resident of LA’s Silver Lake neighborhood.
When neighbors turn to the city to enforce the rules, Plante said, “it’s a very nebulous situation.”
Airbnb alone claims roughly 4,500 hosts in LA. That’s more than four times the total number of lodging businesses, including hotels, bed and breakfasts and other rentals, that are registered to collect and forward city lodging taxes. The company recently estimated that its hosts earned $43 million in rent in a single year in the city, a number that suggests LA could be losing millions annually in tourist taxes used to help pay for police, tree trimming and other city services.
The city has been collecting revenue from some rental hosts who registered their businesses to pay taxes at City Hall. But in one sign of the uncertainty swirling around such rentals, the Los Angeles Times found what appeared to be hundreds of lodging businesses registered to pay taxes in neighborhoods where they are generally barred.