A local real estate agent has pleaded “no contest” to five misdemeanor counts of operating an unlawful business after city officials accused him of running nine illegal vacation homes in the city. After flouting Santa Monica’s strict rules governing short term rentals for over a year, Shabi Jafri will pay $3,600, perform 140 hours of community service and shut down the illegal rentals, according to a press release from Public Information Officer Constance Farrell.
“This is a positive and fair result,” said Code Enforcement Manager Sharon Guidry.
Jafri could not be reached for comment.
The City began administering citations to Jafri in 2017, according to court records. Farrell said the host used various tactics to deceive investigators instead of coming into compliance. Santa Monica rules dictates hosts must register with the city and remain present on the property during their guests’ stay. Officials say the rules preserve the character of local neighborhoods and preserve housing for tenants during a statewide crisis.
“The City of Santa Monica has consistently dedicated policies to producing, protecting and preserving housing in our community,” said Chief Deputy City Attorney Yibin Shen. “This conviction is both a just outcome and further affirms these important legislative goals.”
The successful prosecution comes as home sharing sites Airbnb and HomeAway come into compliance with Santa Monica’s policy. A judge ruled last week the city has the right to ban the websites from facilitating transactions that involve illegal businesses.
Airbnb has promised to continue to fight to liberalize Santa Monica’s policy.
“For more than two years, Airbnb sought to work with the City of Santa Monica on a solution that ensures middle and lower class families who want to visit the coast can find an affordable place to stay,” said Airbnb spokesman Charlie Urbancic. “Despite our efforts, the city insisted on an approach that violates federal law. We were left with no option but to file suit and appeal the lower court’s prior erroneous ruling, which the court has now extended in this order. We will continue to pursue our pending appeal.”
Without cooperation from the platforms to shut down illegal operators, code enforcement officers say it has been difficult to enforce the rules. Hosts often delete illegal listings during City Hall business hours or manipulate addresses to appear to be in Los Angeles. Vacationers rarely check local laws to see if their lodgings are legal before booking.