Airbnb non-compliant with new city ordinances

Huixingzi Tang / Courier David Reyes from the Pasadena housing department talks about short term rental issues during the City Council Meeting in Pasadena on October 2, 2017.

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During Monday’s city council meeting, Pasadena introduced new ordinances for short-term rental hosts operating in the city through websites like Airbnb.

The city will prevent hosts from renting their locations to their customers on short-term rental sites, if the owner of the property doesn’t live at their location for a minimum of nine months to a year. Customers who are staying at these “unhosted” sites will be allowed to stay up to 90 days. For those that live on their property, they will have an unlimited amount of rentals per year.

“I’m content now with the notion that hosted stays should not be limited,” Mayor Terry Tornek said. “I think the unhosted stays must be limited, and I think the 90-day limits in terms of what constitutes primary residences…”

Huixingzi Tang / Courier
The City Council Meeting room on October 2, 2017.

All short-term rentals, whether they’re homes, apartments, hotels, etc., will require a business license and a permit. Three violations of the new ordinances will get the permit revoked.

Hosts who operate without permits will be subjected to fines, although the city has yet to determine the amount.

Many residents were in attendance during the discussion, and around 30 people went up to speak during public comment. Most of the comments were concerns from “vacation rentals,” where the property owner isn’t home while the guests are there. The concerns ranged from guests causing problems, like having parties and trashing the neighborhoods, to even generating a piloting program for these homes which the residents believe will also cause the like, while devaluing the neighborhoods over time. The city voted against vacation rentals.

In order for these ordinances to take effect, city council feels Airbnb should assist and provide data about their Pasadena clients, for violation purposes. During a nearly 20 minute lengthy conversation during public comment, Airbnb’s policy manager John Choi said the company would provide the tools for the city to help enforce the laws, but would not have a direct hand in doing so. He also said Airbnb will not be providing their client’s personal information to the city due to serious privacy concerns.

“I can help the city get to those goals, however asking us to essentially, what we believe is, putting us in a position to enforce the law by making that decision,” Choi said. “…It’s incredibly important that the city plays a role as an enforcement agency, and not Airbnb.”

Councilmember Victor Gordo believes the city should be able to regulate platforms like Airbnb, as well as its hosts of their activity.

“I think that the city is well within its rights to regulate the activity of all of the participants, including its platforms,” Gordo said. “In Pasadena (if) you’re going to accept a participant on your platform, you’re going to have to adhere to our rules.”

“I think what you’re hearing from me now is that this is an area that we’re not currently willing to agree to in the city of Pasadena,” Choi said. “It’s not something we’re willing to agree to quite frankly.”

Choi also said they won’t take the host’s listing down from their site, even if the host was in violation with Pasadena’s ordinances.

Huixingzi Tang / Courier
Emanuel Najera, a graduate from PCC, speaks during the City Council Meeting on October 2, 2017.

The problem, according to Choi, is if the company decides to go the route Pasadena requests, then they would have to do that to each city that has similar complaints. Given that the company has over 65,000 jurisdictions, it will require them to edit all the content that’s on the website, which is something Choi, as well as the company, would not agree to.

Gordo asked the city attorney to see if there’s a possible way the city could regulate Airbnb and other platforms to block customers who refuse to abide by the new ordinances.

“…I do think that there will be a lot of focus on the actual language of the ordinance, particularly as it relates to our somewhat reluctant partners at Airbnb and platforms who are more concerned in seeing (that) it’s about individual subscribers’ privacy than they are about certain outcomes and working in true cooperation with the city,” Tornek said.

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