Illegal Short Term Rentals Become the Other L.A. Housing Crisis

Tenants and advocacy groups insist that the influx in illegal short term listings is pushing many to homelessness

When Kyla Porcellini and her roommate moved into their 6-unit Crestview apartment building in May 2021, her neighbors included a family that lived downstairs and a group of roommates down the hall. Porcellini soon got to know them pretty well. Today, however, they’ve left, and their apartments, along with all the others in the building, are now illegal short-term rentals and Airbnb units. The roommates down the hall had some parting words for Procellini when they were leaving. 

“They want us all out of here,” she was told, referring to Scott Properties, the building’s management company very same who’d been ignoring maintenance requests and emails from Porcellini for months. It was only when the departing neighbor and his roommates reached out to say they’d had enough and would be leaving, they heard back right away. Not long after they left, their apartment was converted and a string of guests was in and out of the unit. 

This sort of situation is becoming more common and presenting a serious issue in L.A.’s housing crisis, according to Better Neighbors Los Angeles, a coalition of tenants, homeowners, businesses, and workers advocating for affordable and accessible housing in Los Angeles. The ongoing battle for affordable housing largely hinges on BNLA’s ongoing efforts to convince the city to ramp up short-term housing restrictions that are gradually pushing long-term tenants out and contributing to L.A.’s increase in crime.  

In an effort to address the issue, Los Angeles passed 2020’s Home-Sharing Ordinance, which would permit short-term rentals, albeit with restrictions in place that would also protect affordable housing and public safety. Enforcement of the ordinance, however, began declining in 2022 and violations increased, triggering a domino effect: Rents began inching higher, while evictions from rent-stabilized apartments grew, and the impetus to convert apartments into more profitable short-term units persists. And the tactics are getting sneaky. 

Bait-and-switch moves to avoid city oversight popped up, as they did in buildings like Porcellini’s building: Llisting an Airbnb under one address in a municipality that typically neighbors Los Angeles, only to message a guest when the reservation is accepted with the actual listing location. In other cases, they will list a unit as a long-term stay while coordinating a shorter-term stay more privately in direct messages with guests. Or, hosts will claim a unit as their primary residence–the HSO permits a host to list their home if it is their primary residence–an evasive tactic the city itself has acknowledged as increasingly common. 

In 2022, there were an average of 4,272 monthly short-term rentals advertised on 60 monitored platforms, according to BNLA’s most recent annual report exploring the impact of waning enforcement, More than half didn’t comply with the Home-Sharing Ordinance. Yet the city only fined or sent warning letters to roughly 64 of those hosts per month, leaving approximately two-thirds of violators unaddressed. More broadly: There was a 54 percent decrease in warning letters, an 85 percent decrease in fines, and a 25 percent increase in non-compliant listings. In the report, BNLA’s Executive Director Randy Renick says this creates the cascading effect that “pushes people out of their neighborhood and pushes those on the verge of homelessness into homelessness.” 

BNLA has seen this play out with Miracle Mile’s historic apartment complex Park La Brea, a complex dedicated to high-density rent-stabilized units that have bolstered the affordable housing market, particularly in a high-demand area so close to LACMA and The Grove. The problem, BNLA says, is that they’re seeing an increasing number of these units renting out as illegal STRs, despite all Park La Brea leases prohibiting them.   

The impact this could have in pushing residents to homelessness is something McGill University Professor David Wachsmuth explores in his 2022 studies on the impact of short-term rentals on affordable Los Angeles housing. Wachsmuth’s data revealed that over 2,500 homes from the long-term rental market were removed to make way for short-term rentals. The result? More than 5,000 more people experienced homelessness each night, according to his data. 

“The planning department themselves have said that the reason [enforcement of the HSO] has declined is a lack of resources,” says BNLA representative Tori Funk. “We feel that’s a little bit of a cop-out. Because if enforcement was done correctly, it would fund itself. You can issue fines of up to $572 a night for an illegal listing, and so that could generate quite a bit of revenue. You can also fine platforms. And so, I think a lot of it is a lack of dedicated staff to enforce the ordinance.” 

It’s a sentiment echoed by lawyer Nancy Hanna, who has experience litigating cases where tenants have been forced out of their apartments so that they could be converted into short-term units. According to Hanna, the Department of City Planning’s 24-hour hotline, dedicated to receiving short-term rental complaints, often leads to a messaging service which is then referred out to another department, which can do little to actually ensure some response to the issue. City Planning will often redirect representatives like Hanna to the City Housing Department or the Department of Building and Safety. In fact, in response to a request for comment, City Planning emailed almost the exact same message Hanna has heard all too often: “City Planning is not an enforcement agency.” 

Hanna is somewhat puzzled by this. “How can you administer an ordinance but not enforce it,” she wonders. 

“There are usually entire communities behind a single caller,” says Hanna of the complaints she has fielded. “These problems affect the entire fabric of a community.” Coalitions like BNLA, she says, are even doing much of the research and data collection for the city. “We’re doing the work. It’s almost like we’re just daring them to do something with it,” says Hanna. 

Litigating the issues, on the other hand, can be costly, a deterrent that leaves tenants feeling helpless. And, at the end of the day, even when a tenant has been evicted, “It can be so difficult to prove what someone’s intention is when the property is removed from the market…” For Hanna, representing single clients is all fine and good. But to have a larger impact on the systemic, she says there has to be some movement at the city level. After all, tenants are left with grave consequences. 

“The push towards homelessness is something that escalates,” says Hanna. Often it will start with someone leaving to go to another apartment. However, because they’ve been in rent-stabilized housing for so long, they can only afford new rent for a short time. From there, maybe they stay with friends or couch surf for a while. Slowly, it’s clear there are not many options left, And eventually, all options to remain housed run out. 

Tori Funk’s background in eviction defense has demonstrated this narrative. 

“When I was there, I would talk to people quite often, especially those who live in Council District 11, kind of near the beach,” says Funk. So many would come in, insistent that their landlord was trying to evict them for one reason when the implication was strong that they just wanted to convert the unit. BNLA maintains its own hotline for calls and Funk is all too familiar with stories from tenants who phone in, terrified of eviction, struggling with increased traffic and noise, and facing the sobering reality that comes when you realize all of your neighbors are now gone. 

Porcellini is familiar with this drastic change. There had been a revolving door of short-term guests in the building, whom she can only tactfully describe as “interesting…” Trash began accumulating around the building. Laundry facilities were consistently unusable, given the new frequency with which the short-term rental manager has to clean linens from other apartments, readying for the next onslaught of guests. 

“A couple of weeks ago, he kept taking my laundry out of the machine because he had to keep washing sheets from other units,” Porcellini says. “I’m like, dude: I live here.” Even more seriously, any requests Porcellini and her roommate have made for help went largely ignored. “We get the feeling [the property manager] doesn’t want to talk to us because they also want us to leave.” After all, management has used this evasion technique before. The problem is that leaving is not a tenable option. 

“It’s really hard because even this area is not the most ideal place to live,” Porcellini says. “It doesn’t feel super safe… But it’s rent-controlled. So it’s really all I can afford.” Though Porcellini and her roommate have raised the issue of the short-term units with the property manager, reminding them of their illegality, they’ve gotten an adamant facade of ignorance: Management insists this doesn’t sound right but never follows up to address the issue. Then their management contact disappears. stops returning messages and business goes on as usual: broken laundry, strange traffic, trash accumulation and all. 

For now, Porcellini has little choice but to put her faith in the possibility that the city will do something, anything, to address the issue. She can’t afford to leave, even when staying is becoming increasingly difficult. It’s simple, she says. “I don’t really have a choice.” 

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