Coronavirus and Short-Term Rentals: Who’s Looking Out for Tenants?

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The Ellison apartment building is on the left.

Last night I got an e-mail from a guy I know in Venice. He’s been living for decades at the Ellison, a beautiful old apartment building. In recent years the landlord has been turning vacant units into short-term rentals, to the point where now the tenants are in the minority, and the place has been overrun with tourists. Like all the rest of us, he’s concerned about the spread of the coronavirus. He writes….

Maybe it doesn’t seem like an issue now, but:

I’m a senior citizen living on the fifth floor of the same apartment building for forty years. I don’t want to share the one elevator for 58 apartments/“Ellison Suites” with bargain hunting, international tourists.

I think he has an excellent point. As a senior citizen with COPD, he has a right to be worried about living in a building with tourists from all over the world when health officials have voiced serious concern about the spread of the virus. A top official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said, “It’s not so much a matter of if this will happen anymore, but rather a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness.”

Tenants at the Ellison have been dealing with a lot of issues since their landlord decided to turn the building into a quasi-hotel. Loud music, late night parties and drunken revelers have been ongoing problems. But now they have to be concerned about whether they could be exposed to a serious disease.

Why should renters have to deal with this? It used to be that there were clear boundaries between residential and commercial uses, and tenants could expect to be shielded from the disturbances that arise with transient occupants. But now we live in a world with tech “visionaries” who value “disruption” more than they value communities. And while LA has passed a short-term rental ordinance, it’s still an open question as to how strict enforcement is going to be. Remember, Eric Garcetti’s former spokesperson, Connie Llanos, left her job at the Mayor’s Office to go to work for AirBnB.

This isn’t just a health issue. It’s a liability issue. While there are many law-abiding individuals who are legally renting their house or apartment under the Home Sharing Ordinance, there are still plenty of landlords (like the owner of the Ellison) and commercial operators who are flouting the law . If a renter is infected with the coronavirus through contact with a tourist, will these landlords pay for their healthcare costs? I seriously doubt it. And yet, as this contagious disease spreads across the globe, with new cases every day, tenants who moved into their building with the expectation that they’d be living with other tenants find themselves coming into frequent contact with vacationers. Also, aside from STRs, the City of LA has actually approved a hybrid apartment/hotel use at the Metropolitan in Hollywood and Level Furnished Living in Downtown. They’re getting ready to do it again at 949 S. Hope.

We are seeing new cases of coronovirus infections every day, and the numbers are spiking in multiple countries. It seems to me that if tenants have evidence that their landlord is illegally offering multiple units on short-term rental web sites, they’d be perfectly justified in seeking an injunction to protect their health.

If you see a problem here, why not contact the Mayor and ask if he sees a problem, too. And while you’re at it, why not write to the City Attorney’s Office.

Mayor Eric Garcetti
mayor.garcetti@lacity.org

Leela Ann Kapur, Chief of Staff, City Attorney
leela.kapur@lacity.org

Couldn’t hurt to copy your Councilmember as well.

Maybe you could use the following subject line….

Coronavirus and Short-Term Rentals

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