Airbnb Offers Rental Options, But Not Everyone Is A Fan

By Stephanie Hoops Ventura County Star, Calif.

In the days before Terri Dore turned to Airbnb's website to rent her Ventura home to travelers, she was on a downward spiral, out of work after 24 years in the same job.

"I'm 54 years old," she said. "It's been really rough."

Dore had exhausted her jobless benefits and her confidence was waning from a fruitless daily job search. Then her daughter came home from New York and opened her eyes to a modern moneymaking idea.

"She said: 'Mom, the house is so nice, you should really do this Airbnb,' " Dore recalled.

Airbnb, a website used to broker short-term rentals in private homes and apartments, was unfamiliar to Dore and she wasn't sure she wanted strangers staying in her house. But she quickly learned what others have been discovering -- that local homeowners are upping their income as micro-entrepreneurs using Airbnb and other burgeoning home-sharing websites like VRBO, HomeAway and FlipKey.

With her daughter's help, Dore listed two rooms in her house on Airbnb and her first guests, a couple from Malibu, arrived on Valentine's Day.

"They were just as sweet as can be," she said. "I'm pretty outgoing so we had great conversations."

Dore continues to take in guests. Not only is she now making money, Dore delights in getting to know new people and has an improved sense of self-worth. She said it's great to feel wanted again.

"This has just given me a whole new experience in life," she said.

Claudette Wedemeyer, another Ventura resident who lists space in her house on Airbnb, was also out of work, living off dwindling savings when in 2013 she got into short-term renting. She now books her house 15 to 20 nights every month. Wedemeyer believes the recession drove people to be more enterprising with their property.

"The recession forced us to simplify things, look at what we have and make use of a resource like this," she said.

Most Airbnb hosts use the money they earn from home sharing to make ends meet, said the San Francisco-based company's spokesman, Christopher Nulty.

"Globally, 82 percent of Airbnb hosts share only the home in which they live," he said, "and 47 percent of Airbnb hosts use the money they make hosting to pay their bills and stay in their homes."

The home-sharing phenomenon is not without its critics, however. The left-leaning Daily Kos blog recently called on Airbnb and other short-term rental corporations to "pay their fair share" in taxes, accusing them of pulling homes out of California's scarce rental housing supply.

Malibu and many other American cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, are cracking down on the services via regulation.

Nulty said the company has been working with cities across the country and around the world to help pay hotel and tourist taxes. Last week it was reported that Airbnb will begin collecting 12 percent hotel taxes from Malibu residents who are using their homes for short-term rentals. Airbnb also recently started collecting and remitting taxes on behalf of hosts and guests in Portland, San Francisco, San Jose, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Amsterdam.

"Airbnb is focused on making neighborhoods better places to live and visit," Nulty said, "and part of that includes working with lawmakers to do the right thing on this issue."

Not everyone wants to see regulatory burdens imposed on the home-sharing sites, however. State Assemblyman Matthew Harper, R-Huntington Beach, in February introduced AB 1220, which would prohibit cities and counties from levying taxes on residential short-term rentals.

Thousand Oaks resident Carma Roig said she'd hate to see the service be dismantled because of cumbersome regulations. Roig rents her home through Airbnb and recently used it to find a place to stay in Northern California.

"I think it's great and I hope they don't ruin it," she said.

Few cities in Ventura County have implemented regulations.

Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks have not. Neither has Camarillo.

"We're not in front of that parade," said Camarillo City Manager Bruce Feng.

Thousand Oaks Assistant City Attorney Patrick Hehir said that while the city has heard from concerned residents, it has yet to decide whether to regulate home-sharing services. He said most of the cities that are doing so now are major destination areas like Malibu and Napa, although surrounding cities are beginning to see an influx of travelers as a result.

"We haven't made a presentation to council yet because we want to fully evaluate it and lay a foundation," Hehir said.

Enforcement of regulations has been a hurdle in San Francisco. The city is unable to enforce its new rules because short-term tourist rental companies like Airbnb aren't required to turn over the names of people renting out their homes, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Ojai city officials are working on an ordinance that would prohibit the rentals in residential zones unless the owner obtains a conditional-use permit. To enforce impending rules, Ojai City Manager Robert Clark said the city would simply survey the home-sharing sites and contact those who have listings once an ordinance is in place.

"It's not 100 percent, but we can identify them and can take code enforcement action," he said.

Ventura has no new rules governing the home-sharing sites, but is asking people who are leasing their properties to comply with existing business requirements. Surveying sites like Airbnb is how Ventura is identifying those people. Ventura City Manager Mark Watkins said the city's staff scans sites a couple of times a month looking for rentals listed in Ventura. They then contact owners and let them know they're required to have business licenses and pay transient occupancy taxes. About half of the owners comply, and the other half stop doing business, he said.

Wedemeyer's rental caught the city's eye, and she had to pay about $600 for a permit. To deal with the transient occupancy taxes, she raised her rental rate from $75 to $90.

"I don't think anyone loves paying taxes but I feel our city does a pretty good job putting them back to use," she said. "When we first got our notice it was like -- sigh -- really? But the city was really nice and cooperative."

Still, Wedemeyer hopes Ventura is making everyone comply. She said she asked about that once when she sent in a payment. "You do kind of feel like, OK city, don't just pick on us," she said.

It's not known what the city of Oxnard is doing, if anything, to monitor home-sharing sites. Oxnard City Manager Greg Nyhoff did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Jim Milstead, who co-chairs the Windsor North/River Ridge Neighborhood Council in Oxnard, has noticed an influx of short-term renters in his community because of the growing popularity of Airbnb, and wants home-sharing activity to cease in the city.

"I didn't buy into a neighborhood of $600,000 and $700,000 homes for people to turn the neighborhood into a commercial business," he said.

Milstead said homeowners with properties near the beach and across the city are treating houses like hotels. The tourists are having parties and taking up parking spaces, he said, and that activity will have a negative impact on home values.

"Private homes are not supposed to be hotels," he said. "They weren't zoned to be hotels and aren't licensed as B&Bs or hotels."

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