City looks to create regulations for short term rentals

The Claremont city council gave direction to city staffers Tuesday evening on how to regulate short-term rentals.

Short-term rentals, such as AirBnbs or VRBOs, are technically banned in Claremont, but the rule is not often enforced due to staffing issues, the city said. Around 54 of them currently exist and operate within the city, according to Assistant to the City Manager Jamie Earl.

The idea of regulating short-term rentals initially came from the Future Financial Opportunities Committee (FFOC), which recommended the city look into the issue as a way that could generate some additional revenue in the city.

Tuesday’s meeting was for the council to offer up ideas to the city as the first step in creating a possible regulation outline.

Cities across the county have dealt with the proliferation of AirBnbs and VRBOs for years. Some local cities have left the issue alone—La Verne and San Dimas, for instance, do not have any regulations or prohibitions on the books, Ms. Earl said. Pasadena, West Hollywood and Santa Monica have regulations in place, and Glendora has banned them outright.

There are pros and cons to short-term rentals, Ms. Earl pointed out. Some positives include the potential for homeowners to earn extra money, utilizing a room or guest suite that may have otherwise not been used, using revenues from short-term rentals to make ends meet for struggling homeowners and providing additional lodging options for those visiting the city and the Colleges.

Drawbacks, however, include the idea that AirBnbs take long-term rentals off the market, potentially exacerbating the housing shortage and pushing up rental prices. They also could be seen as an “unfair” competition to existing hotels, the city said, and a revolving door of short-term occupants could negatively impact a neighborhood.

The council was unanimously in favor of some type of regulation mechanism for short-term rentals, rather than keeping the ban in place.

Councilmember Ed Reece listed off a number of ideas he got from other cities, such as a minimum age for guests, a “clear outline” that the rentals should not be used for parties, a limit on the total number of people staying in an Airbnb at a time and compliance with the city’s existing overnight parking restrictions.

Mayor Pro Tem Larry Schroeder listed off issued that needed to be addressed in a potential regulatory scheme—preservation of neighborhood quality; oversight, compliance and sanction procedures; clear definitions of short-term rentals and protection of the city’s affordable housing supply.

“Make sure these don’t take affordable units off the market,” Mr. Schroeder said.

Councilmember Jed Leano noted that while there isn’t any “policy rationale” to keep a ban in place, but was concerned about unintended consequences that regulations could bring when it comes to the city’s rental stock.

“My biggest fear, out of any scheme that we produce, would be that we take homes that are available now for rental for people to live in full time, and we basically turn them into boutique hotel opportunities,” he said.

He floated three ideas that could help in preventing that—owner-occupancy rules (where the owner of a property with a guest suite or back house is required to live on the property), time limitations or seasonal requirements, and unit capacity, where only a portion of a home can be used as a short-term rental, as opposed to the entire home.

“I want to find ways to preserve as many units of housing stock as possible and only regulate those units that were already going to be used for short term anyway,” Mr. Leano said.

Councilmember Jennifer Stark piggybacked on that, offering up the idea of a “saturation point,” such as limiting the amount of short term rentals allowed at a certain time.

When asked by Mayor Corey Calaycay about who would do the regulating, Ms. Earl noted that the city would most likely hire an outside consulting firm, the price of which couldn’t be determined yet because it hasn’t gone out to bid.

City Manager Tara Schultz said larger cities have a dedicated staff to focus on enforcing regulations. “We don’t have that ability,” she said.

Mr. Calaycay made clear that this should not be seen as a “windfall” for Claremont.

“If anything it will help us get control of a situation that we currently really don’t have good control over,” he said.

During public comment, resident Paul Slaney offered up some statistics on short-term rentals in Claremont—the average number of rentals at a time was about 46 per month, with an average rate of $149 per night.

Short-term rentals have “big swings in occupancy,” Mr. Slaney said, that corresponds with the Colleges’ schedule—May is the busiest month and November is the slowest month.

Most of the short-term rentals offered up on sites like AirBnb and VRBO are studios and one-bedrooms, meaning they could mostly be extra rooms in a house or a back house on a property, he said.

Rachel Forester noted the “well-established fact” that AirBnbs reduce the availability of housing, but was not against them outright. She advocated for regulations that put housing needs first.

The next steps for the city are to take the recommendations from the council and create a regulation structure, put it out for public input, solicit bids from professional compliance companies, and draft an ordinance.

The next city council meeting will take place on October 22.

Matthew Bramlett


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