File photo

File photo

CITYWIDE — For a town that doesn’t sanction short-term vacation rentals, they sure are popular.

Flipkey.com, a site that helps people rent their private pads to visitors, ranked Santa Monica the fifth most-chosen destination in Southern California, attracting 5.7 percent of all vacations in the southland booked through the service.

“It’s a popular destination for us,” said Eric Horndahl, the vice president of marketing with Flipkey.

That may be true, but Santa Monica does not welcome the businesses, which it defines as homes, residences or even rooms rented out for less than 30 days.

For years, homeowners have pulled in extra cash by renting out their properties, some reporting as much as $40,000 of extra income from those who prefer to rent a residence rather than a hotel room.

After years of sanctioning the cottage industry on a complaint-by-complaint basis, City Hall put muscle behind its laws and entrusted compliance to the Code Enforcement Division.

That crew, headed by former-Marine Joe Trujillo, took a more proactive approach, searching for rentals on sites like Flipkey or its competitors to find active vacation rentals and shut them down.

The effort led to dozens of citations, but the market remains strong — type “Santa Monica” into Flipkey alone and over 200 results pop up.

The site combed through three years of data — over 230,000 records — to come up with its conclusions. The data show most people travel in groups of two or four and that a full 20 percent of vacations happen within four weeks, between the second week in July and the first week of August.

On average, a one-bedroom in Southern California rents for $242.72 per night, and a two-bedroom unit would go for $258.62 in the area. That’s still below the average daily rate for Santa Monica hotels in 2012, which hit $288.80, according to the Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB), a group that actively promotes Santa Monica to the world.

Flipkey is one of the few who can say it saw the business grow during the recession as people looked to cash in on their prime locations by renting out their homes and others hoped to escape prices charged by hotels.

“It’s the value,” Horndahl said. “With a small family with two kids, it’s just a much better way to travel.”

Vacation rentals come equipped with space, offer privacy and often the ability to cook meals at the residence, something that can cut down significantly on spending for a small family.

Flipkey also reports that people tend to stay longer, clocking an average 7.3 days per visit to Southern California in the summer months, a bit longer than the 4.8 day average between July and September of 2012 reported by the CVB.

While the stats Flipkey offers seem to back up the vacation rental model, Santa Monicans who live near the businesses wish they would stay out of town.

John Redmond lives on Wadsworth Avenue, a small street near the beach. He spent 20 years at the residence before vacation rentals became a nuisance for him and his neighbors.

Some of the problems he classified as “irritants” — people unfamiliar with the local waste system mixing up the recycling and trash cans or taking up parking in a neighborhood with none to spare.

Other impacts are a bit more profound.

“If it spreads, it just destroys the neighborhood,” Redmond said. “You don’t have neighbors. They come and go, you don’t know what they look like, not to mention names. It destroys any sense of community.”

Code Enforcement is still aware of the problem, and will be looking for new powers from the City Council to make the division’s task easier, Trujillo said.

“We continue to focus on vacation rentals by actively investigating through website search, citizen complaint and property inspections,” Trujillo said. “We are also working with the Planning (Department) to clearly define ‘vacation rentals’ and making recommendations to the zoning ordinance to help us with enforcement.”

 

ashley@smdp.com