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How Los Angeles Is Trying To Address Its Housing Shortage, Short-Term Rental Problems


When you think of short-term rentals like Airbnbs, you might picture renting out a basement apartment or a spare room. In some cities, property owners are turning entire apartment buildings into de facto hotels, and that's bad news for long-term tenants. Anna Scott of member station KCRW reports from Los Angeles.

ANNA SCOTT, BYLINE: Venice Beach is the perfect summer getaway for Chris Hrisomalis, who's on vacation with his cousin.

CHRIS HRISOMALIS: Just hanging out. We wanted to get by the beach, kind of relax for a few days 'cause everything's been kind of hectic for both of us.

SCOTT: They're staying a block from the ocean at The Ellison Suites. Rooms go for a couple hundred bucks a night. Hrisomalis likes The Ellison. It's quirky. He's really into the mural of the singer Lana Del Rey painted on the side.

HRISOMALIS: She's really awesome. I'd love to meet her someday.

SCOTT: What he doesn't know is that a woman named Kelly Day lives on the other side of that mural.

KELLY DAY: I've lived here for a little over three years.

SCOTT: Day works from home as a business consultant. All day, she says, she hears tourists coming and going and snapping photos with Lana Del Rey.

DAY: I can't get on calls. I can't show presentations. I have to hide in my bathroom when I want to get on a call with my clients. It's been a nightmare, yeah.

SCOTT: See; The Ellison looks and operates just like a hotel, but this is supposed to be a regular apartment building. Out of almost 60 apartments, though, only about a dozen still have full-time residents.

MIKE BONIN: The Ellison is the poster child for the bad short-term rentals.

SCOTT: Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin represents Venice Beach. He says LA has a housing shortage that's driving up rents. And landlords taking a bunch of units off the regular market makes the squeeze even worse. Bonin and housing advocates say this is happening all over the city.

BONIN: Are short-term rentals the cause of the housing crisis in Los Angeles - no, of course not. Are they a contributing factor - absolutely, yes.

THOMAS NITTI: If you don't want short-term rentals, then pass a law.

SCOTT: Attorney Thomas Nitti represents the owner of The Ellison building. He says what's going on there is part of a changing housing market that blurs the traditional line between hotel and apartment building.

NITTI: Over the last few years, some hotels have turned into extended-stay places, corporate rentals. You can stay for a few months.

SCOTT: The Ellison, he argues, is not an unlicensed hotel. It's an apartment building that happens to rent units by the night instead of the month.

NITTI: I don't think you can define a hotel by length of occupancy. We've all heard of people who live in some of the Beverly Hills hotels and stay there for years and years.

SCOTT: Other cities have passed new laws to avoid this very type of confusion. Santa Monica right next door, San Diego and San Francisco, for example, have all spelled out what kinds of properties you can and can't turn into short-term rentals. Los Angeles has been considering a similar ordinance for almost three years. This month, it's finally supposed to get a hearing at the City Planning Commission, one of the final steps to passage. For tenants at The Ellison, though, it could be too little too late.


SCOTT: Dawoud Farahani has lived in this rent-controlled studio apartment since 1992. He pays 1,450 a month - not cheap. But the landlord could get more than double that from nightly rentals. Farahani believes the landlord wants him out. He says he's had his water turned off periodically and has ongoing issues with rodents.

FARAHANI: It was a mouse. It was rat - big, fat rat. I don't have a life. I'm tired.

SCOTT: So why doesn't he just move?

FARAHANI: Over 25 years I'm living here. This is my home.

SCOTT: And for a place one block from the ocean in LA, he has a great deal, something that's getting harder and harder to find in this city. For NPR News, I'm Anna Scott in Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anna Scott