Airbnb Restrictions Tightened Following Hours of Heated Debate


The Malibu Planning Commission unanimously (5-0) approved the city’s short-term rental (STR) ordinance after a five-and-a-half-hour-long special Zoom meeting last week that included 24 public speakers, sending the ordinance to city council after putting some additional teeth into it.

Tempers flared and shouting erupted for the second planning commission meeting in a row, with verbal outbursts and talking over each other, with one particular heated exchange between Chair Jeff Jennings and Commissioner Steve Uhring.

The city’s STR ordinance has been a work-in-progress for nearly five years. With the advent of internet rental booking platforms in the past few decades (like Airbnb in 2008), Malibu property owners began jumping on the bandwagon; after some years, the growing number of short-term rentals began raising complaints among the community.

Wild parties at some rental houses went unsupervised, some residents saw their neighborhoods turning into hotel districts and the conversion of rental properties from long-term to short-term leases meant the city had fewer permanent residents with schoolchildren.

On the positive side, some property owners enjoyed the opportunity to make money and the city started collecting taxes from STRs. Some say income from STRs is the only way they can afford to keep living in Malibu. The California Coastal Commission also sees STRs as a way for more Californians to have access to the coast.

The city monitors STR listings on more than 50 rental booking internet platforms and reported online that 446 properties in or near Malibu advertised for short-term rental as of July 2, 2020, out of nearly 5,800 total housing units.

The city’s proposed ordinance will create an annual short-term rental permit program with two permit types: one for single-family residences and condos that require an onsite host or “designated operator” and one for owners of multifamily buildings. Multifamily housing can rent up to two units on a short-term basis so long as the remaining units are rented long-term.

At city council’s request, the ordinance was largely adapted from one in Santa Monica, which has been upheld in court. Council members said they like Santa Monica’s system for preventing online platforms from completing transactions for illegal rentals, as well as the idea of onsite hosts.

The proposed ordinance requires a single-family home to be the owner’s primary residence. The owner must be physically on the property, but not necessarily in the same dwelling unit, from 8 p.m. until 6 a.m. and must sleep overnight and prepare and eat meals each day of the rental period. The onsite host is there to prevent nuisance issues and correct any problems that develop.

By the end of the planning meeting, the commission had voted on several changes to the proposed ordinance, making it stricter—with some of the fine tuning done on a 3-2 vote. They now recommend yanking an owner’s permit after only two verified nuisance complaints. The commission also recommended instituting $1,000-a-day fines or twice the daily rent (whichever is greater) on the second major violation.

The public comments reflected the community’s division on the issue—those against the ordinance were all property owners who stand to lose money if the ordinance passes. Many said the requirement for an on-site host would put them out of business.

Those in favor of the ordinance felt their neighborhoods have been too negatively affected by STRs in terms of noisy parties with bad behavior and a constant parade of strangers.

Graeme Clifford made his case for passing the ordinance: “I’d love to ban Airbnb completely … STRs have no concern for community whatsoever. It’s all about money and nothing else and our community is continually being trashed. We’re losing schoolkids because of the lack of long-term rentals. I strongly believe there has to be an onsite host. Total privacy with no one onsite is a non-starter … and we have a terrible record of enforcement.” Former Planning Commissioner Kraig Hill was also in favor: “Having a different stranger next door every night is harm enough in itself to the neighborhood.” Edith Morgan agreed. “Strangers are not the definition of a neighborhood, and they are not neighbors,” she said. “Malibu should be a place of neighborhoods.”

Those opposed to the ordinance included Mary Jones. “I feel STRs can be handled by homeowners’ associations,” she said. Elchin Sadigov insisted that guests “want their privacy” and would not put up with an onsite host. The Drummonds (a husband and wife) said they only rent their house for two short periods each year, and feel they should be treated differently than those operating STRs full-time. Several property owners said they could be onsite within 30 minutes and didn’t understand why an onsite host was necessary. Sharone Karsh suggested onsite hosts should only be required for properties with violations. Jeff Bosson suggested implementing a three-night minimum to eliminate constant turnover.

Commissioner David Weil, in response to complaints about the onsite host, said “This is the only way concretely that we have of making the host-owner look out for the kind of people he rents to.”

In response to a number of complaints about lax enforcement of loud parties, Planning Director Bonnie Blue said, “We’re working on building a better relationship with LASD to respond more effectively.”

The biggest change proposed by the commission was a suggestion that city council not send the ordinance to the California Coastal Commission for approval, because the city’s Local Coastal Plan (LCP) does not currently include anything on STRs—thus, the argument stated, it was beyond the commission’s purview.

Assistant City Attorney Trevor Rusin appeared to disagree, when he later said, “Santa Monica doesn’t have an LCP and has always prohibited STRs, which is not the situation in Malibu, which is why it requires an LCP amendment.”  

Coastal Commission staff have already reviewed the proposed Malibu ordinance and indicated they were not unhappy with it. They sent a letter last week suggesting some edits to tighten up the language. Malibu city staff said they would review the commission staff’s suggestions.

The meeting suffered the usual clicks and missing speakers. One of the voices missing was resident Michael Lustig, who has led the campaign for enacting rules on overnight rentals and founded the national organization Citizens for the Regulation of Short Term Rentals. He told KBUU News his internet and cellphone failed, but he was pleased with the draft ordinance.

The staff report and draft amendments resulting from the meeting will be posted on the city’s website about 10 days before city council takes up the issue on Sept. 14. On Aug. 10, council will consider an interim ordinance.