Another Scheme to Leave Residents Behind!

SM.a.r.t. was recently made aware of a new home-sharing scheme. It appears to be quite straightforward. Go to Ikea, add a lot of bunk beds to your house or apartment, and list your new hostel or bunk bed hotel on and Voila, a new business plan and a bargain for tourists stopping in Santa Monica. After all, why sleep at the Fairmont Miramar or Shutters when you can stay with thirty-six new friends at a Santa Monica landmarked residence. Even better, you have two choices in our town. You can sleep in the exclusive North of Montana neighborhood, or you can choose a trendy Sunset Park address. Located at 2002 20th St, Santa Monica 90404 (LIC: 231214) or 710 Adelaide Place, Santa Monica 90402 (Lic: 231764) check-in is at 3 p.m. and check out the next morning at 11 a.m.

Now, SM.a.r.t. wants to be crystal clear. We are not advocates for this scheme. We agree with the guest author of this column, who is a neighbor of one of these “bunk bed” home-share residences that this practice must stop in Santa Monica. NOW! The operator, Ryusel “Ryan” Shimizu, claims that he is “on premises” during the stays. Considering he is operating two overnight businesses in Santa Monica and two more in Westwood he must have near magical powers.  The City of Santa Monica issued Shimizu’s business licenses while complaints were being made to code enforcement. It is incumbent upon the city to revoke the licenses and end this neighborhood encroachment. 

Here is George Preonas to tell you more. 

Three weeks ago, the doorbell rang as we were hosting some friends for dinner. To my shock and dismay, there was a young bearded man at the door attempting to unlock my front door with his cell phone. He was looking for the house next door that lists a price of $49 for an overnight stay in a “shared house.” This intrusion was not a mere inconvenience; it was downright chilling.

That house is next door to us is in a neighborhood zoned for single-family residences. In it’s listing on Airbnb the “host” claims to have several other similar properties for similar rentals, including one other in Santa Monica. Photos the host has posted show an array of eight queen size bunk beds, each to accommodate two guests. That is sixteen guests in a single, modestly sized bedroom. His advertisement says that with his additional bedrooms he’s prepared to “host” up to 36 overnight guests at $49 each. With three shared bathrooms. Here’s what he says on Airbnb: “You will share the sleeping space with other guests, which may be either male or female. With this reservation, you reserve ONLY ONE bed. If you come with two people in total, you must share the bed you booked. The maximum of 36 people in total can stay at the same time combining all rooms.” The ad continues, “You should expect the bathrooms and the common areas to get a bit busy, especially on weekends.” This warning is attached:  “DO NOT EXPECT that you will share this house with a small number of people when you book.”  There are three bathrooms in the house, and they are all shared.

The result is a steady stream of transient guests. They arrive at all hours in Ubers, scooters, bikes, etc., leaving beer cans and cigarette buts (as well as the scooters) on our sidewalks and streets. We live on a quiet street where the neighbors on our block have all known each other for years. They uniformly are opposed to this nuisance.

On investigating further, I learned that an investor in Houston, Texas, had sold the house to another investor at the same address in Houston. Neither the seller nor the owner has ever lived in the house. The “host” never lived there before it was “converted” into this illegal hotel. It is a purely commercial operation, not a homeowner or renter seeking some modest help with the mortgage or rent. This Air BnB listing appears to be a direct violation of the Santa Monica Municipal Code. It merely states,  “No person shall operate a single-family residential property for a commercial purpose.”

I promptly filed a complaint with the City of Santa Monica folks in charge of enforcing the Home-Share Ordinance. Three weeks have passed, and the City has informed that the “host” received a business license permitting this activity. It appears that he is attempting to exploit a loophole in the Ordinance, as it imposes no limits whatsoever on how many occupants may be in a “home share.” If that’s true, any home, anywhere in Santa Monica, could be converted into a hotel. All you have to do is find a “host” to pretend to live there while operating a hotel. You could rent to dozens of guests each night and a $49 a pop you can make thousands of dollars a week. It won’t be long before additional real estate speculators jump on this bandwagon.

Our municipal government should act promptly to shut down this activity and preserve the essence of our neighborhoods that make Santa Monica an attractive place to live and raise a family. It can start by merely enforcing its own Municipal Code. If it has to close any loopholes in the Home- Share Ordinance, it should do so in all due haste. A good model might be the new Los Angeles Ordinance, which went into effect on July 1. That provides a limit of 120 days for any home share guests and provides for fines of up to $1,000 per day on the hosting platforms such as Airbnb that participate in violating the restrictions. Airbnb, of course, is as equally guilty as the speculators who have established this hotel. Acting as agents, Airbnb collects the money and handles all the financial transactions, including, of course, receiving their commissions for acting on behalf of the host. Only substantial penalties and enforcement will curb the eagerness of Airbnb (and other ‘disrupters”) to destroy communities for its financial gain.

In the forty-five years, I have lived here, I have seen the quality of life deteriorate little by little each year. It seems that Santa Monica is in the thrall of the tourist and development industries.   Developers will continue to build as long as they believe this is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  However, there is no corresponding increase in our infrastructure. Like Venice, Florence, Rome, Barcelona and other cities, Santa Monica has become overrun by tourists. Residents in those cities have abandoned their homes to the tourist economy and become ghost towns when the tourists leave. Several major European cities are now establishing limits on the tourism boon so that residents will come first and have livable neighborhoods. The assault on our local community is in full swing. Santa Monica needs to prove that our residents matter by squelching this new threat to our residential and apartment neighborhoods.

By George Preonas for SM.a.r.t. (Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow)

Thane Roberts, Architect, Robert H. Taylor AIA, Ron Goldman FAIA, Architect, Dan Jansenson, Architect, Building and Fire-Life Safety Commission, Samuel Tolkin Architect, Mario Fonda-Bonardi, AIA, Planning Commissioner, Phil Brock, Santa Monica Arts Commission. For previous articles see