Santa Monica City Hall (File photo)

CITY HALL — City Council will consider regulating short-term rentals, like those offered by companies like Airbnb and VRBO.

Near midnight on Wednesday, as council discussed the updated Zoning Ordinance, Mayor Kevin McKeown made a request for city attorneys to draw up an ordinance to deal with what he called “a crisis for housing.”

“For a seaside tourist magnet like Santa Monica, vacation rental of our scarce housing stock, displacing real residents and creating problems for neighbors, is particularly threatening,” he said in an e-mail after the meeting.

Sites like Airbnb and VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner) connect travelers with residents who are willing to sublet their spaces. City officials have said in the past that these sublets likely violate a slew of city codes, from rent control laws to zoning to business license requirements, but enforcement has been near impossible. Landlords have resorted to stinging their tenants — renting their own properties on Airbnb and showing up to a shocked host.

McKeown suggested that there are as many as 1,700 housing units in the city being used as short-term vacation rentals.

“What this would prevent is the conversion of existing housing stock in our city to de facto hotel rooms,” he said.

The ordinance, as McKeown proposed it, would require residents to license their homes as commercial properties. They would regulate the practice, he said, through the rental facilities — whether they be web-based or land-based.

“It would prohibit both the offerers and the short-term rental facility from offering or accepting money or anything of value from advertising or providing a facility for such vacation rentals unless they’re licensed,” he said.

Hosts would have to give a city agency their addresses and report the lengths of stay for every rental.

Exemptions would include home swaps, roommates, and rentals of a residence when the owner is absent due to a job assignment.

“Enforcement of this could be both by the city and by the neighbors,” he said, “with the remedy being fines that are at least equal to the gross amount paid by the renter so that we get equitable relief and we get attorney’s fees.”

Councilmember Pam O’Connor was skeptical but seemed opened to some type of regulation.

“It’s something, frankly, that is not going to go away,” she said, “that younger people do expect and use and, I think, has a place. I agree, though, that when there are those abuses — when people are, in effect, going into business where they’re acquiring units, acting like hotels — that that’s a problematic side of it. I want to make sure we’re not outright banning it — that we find some way so that people who are doing real peer-to-peer sharing have that opportunity to do it.”

Council voted unanimously to have city attorneys draft the ordinance and McKeown asked that they return with it next week.

“I anticipate robust debate when this comes back,” he said.

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