Grand Mansions. Grander Boutiques. This is Brentwood’s tagline on the uberpopular short-term rental site, Airbnb.
Some residents see it as an advertising slogan; others see it as an epitaph. What remains is a community bisected by a website. It’s a story of technology, politics, housing, economics, class, and societal friction, and it’s only the beginning in the City of Los Angeles.
On Monday, Oct. 5 the Brentwood Homeowners Association (BHA), one of the oldest and largest homeowner associations in California, crafted a letter to the City of Los Angeles’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee in opposition of Councilmembers Mike Bonin and Herb Wesson’s motion to strike a compromise with the citywide issue of Airbnb. The lawmakers’ proposal would allow people to rent out their homes or rooms for short stays (under 30 days) as long as it’s their primary residence.
The proposed rules also would require short-term rentals to collect the same kind of city taxes as hotels.
In a letter stating Brentwood’s opposition to the motion, BHA President Ray Klein underscored growing concerns for the safety and sanctity of their residential neighborhood, plagued by “hotel-like environments with transient occupancy by strangers and the noise, parking, traffic, litter and other activities not usual and customary,” Klein wrote.
“The answer to technology, innovation, and the way that some people want to travel, make friends or make ends meet is not a blanket commercialization of the City’s neighborhoods, including Brentwood,” adding another concern.
On Tuesday, Oct. 6 the Brentwood Community Council passed the same resolution in a 13-6 vote: “BCC opposes Motion CF-14-1635-S2, sponsored by Councilpersons Mike Bonin and Herb Wesson. BCC opposes any change in the current zoning laws regarding short-term rentals.”
The Bonin-Wesson proposal would distinguish the “good” rentals, or legitimate homesharing, from the “bad” ones, rogue hotels.
However, Angelenos could not rent out any home that was not their main residence for short stays, nor any unit that is covered by rent control.
Currently, rental of homes and apartments under 30 days is illegal, but city officials point out that enforcement is nonexistent.
Members of the BCC convened at a packed Mar Vista Park Auditorium the first week of October for a series of “listening sessions” hosted by the Department of City Planning. Gathering response from these three public meetings and online surveys, City Planning will then draft regulations based on the feedback to be voted on by the end of the year.
“I oppose changing the zoning code. I would like you to work with it and show that the city can actually enforce this huge industry,” Brentwood resident and BCC member Nancy Freedman said at the Mar Vista meeting.
Marilyn Krell, president of the South Brentwood Resident Association, said that her area’s residents of single-family homes and multi-unit dwellings reflect the trajectory of the listening session.
“The single-family homeowners seem to have more of a response of concern about disruption to the neighborhood. I agree with much of what’s been said: we need clear, strong, enforceable rules,” she said to City Planning.
For one guest, an Airbnb search in Brentwood renders 158 rentals available at an average price of $156 per night. For three guests, 74 results pop up, at about $255 per night. And for 8 guests, 25 rentals appear with prices ranging from $503 to $11,394.
There are 99 “entire home” rentals available in Brentwood at press time.
One such host is Jae Davis, who rents out her four-bedroom house on Saltair Terrace for $800 a night. It’s a modern, 4,610 square foot mansion complete with a theater room, en-suite bathrooms, and a backyard oasis. It’s not her primary residence, and it’s not the only rental she has available in Brentwood. She also has a two-bedroom condo on Darlington Ave. for $200 a night.
Both of Davis’s properties have for sale real estate signs on the front yard, and she put the houses on Airbnb in the interim of finding a buyer. The four-bedroom on Saltair was a foreclosure that she and her business partner flipped. It’s been three months.
“I feel like someone who could afford this house, they’re going to do what they’re supposed to,” Davis, an entertainer and freelance writer, said from inside her Saltair Airbnb rental. “They’re not going to be loud, they’re not going to have a bunch of people over, they’re not going to have a party, they’re not going to leave trash out. Because if they do, we’re going to keep their deposit.”
The security deposit is $1,000.
“Here, it feels like a hotel but nicer. It’s like you’ve got the whole hotel instead of a hotel room.”
Though she hasn’t had any guests yet in Brentwood, she has another popular rental in Montecito that stays stocked with Airbnb guests.
One couple in the multi-family homes of South Brentwood rents out different units in the building they live in and own. The two, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of neighborhood retaliation, have rented out to 80 different groups, with 99 percent being families. In fact, they said the success of their AirBnB guests have renewed their faith in humanity.
But the couple, both of which work in creative fields, said despite the influx of Airbnb guests, they’re barely breaking even. They use the home-sharing service to supplement their income, not get rich, they said. And they are absolutely opposed to Bonin and Wesson’s primary residence rule.
Tom Routson is another Brentwood Airbnb user who uses the site to supplement his income as he jumps into his new career as an actor. He also has to put an 18-year-old and a 20-year-old through college.
“I’m looking for every possible angle for making money,” Routson said. “I have four jobs. And I grew up in Brentwood.”
Interestingly enough, he’s also a 30-year veteran of the hotel management industry in Los Angeles. He rents out his “large Brentwood bedroom” for $105 a night, and he’ll usually sleep on the couch when a guest is there.
He’s had 100 guests this year.
“I think people have been renting rooms and swapping for years,” he said. “I think each Airbnb host has to have their own guidelines.” His guidelines say there is no noise from 9 pm to 9 am, no smoking, and no pets.
Out of the five Airbnb hosts in Brentwood Brentwood News spoke to, all were welcoming of the transient occupancy tax.
But that doesn’t seem to matter to the old guard of Brentwood.
“The financial problems of a relatively few residents, and the financial problems of the City, must not be solved on the backs of homeowners who had a right to expect that the residential neighborhood in which they made a large investment would not be commercialized in any manner,” wrote the BHA to the Planning and Land Use Management Committee.