LOS ANGELES (Legal Newsline) – City Attorney Marsha Moutrie’s office in Santa Monica, California, is defending the city in a lawsuit against an ordinance that stops property owners from renting their homes for less than 30 days.
The lawsuit says the city of Santa Monica is discriminating against property owners who rely on Airbnb-type rentals. That company also recently joined the fight against the law with a lawsuit of its own.
“We do not view the ordinance as restricting vacation rentals,” Moutrie told Legal Newsline. “They were previously illegal in Santa Monica.”
Arlene Rosenblatt, a resident leading the suit, alleges that the city’s ordinance caused her to suffer financially. Moutrie says the ordinance does not completely infringe on property owner’s rights.
“The ordinance authorizes home sharing, which means that the resident must be present during the vacation rental,” she said. “I think the ordinance is a lawful exercise of the city’s police powers.”
She said the ordinance is not about taking away from property owners financially but that the main cause is to keep the interest of the greater public in mind and to keep a close eye out for safety issues.
“I think the council’s main concern about vacation rentals is the adverse impacts on surrounding neighbors in residential neighborhoods and buildings,” Moutrie said.
Ronsenblatt filed the suit for herself and on behalf of other residents on June 21 in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. The lawsuit is filed against the city council of Santa Monica and the city of Santa Monica.
Airbnb-type rentals can take away from the hospitality industry.
“I don’t think that the hotel industry was a driving force,” Moutrie said. “Of course, the city collects a tax on hotel room rentals and that was likely a consideration. Also, industry representatives may have testified at the public hearing.”
Rosenblatt is asking that the ordinance be deemed unconstitutional, while Airbnb Co. also filed suit against the city of Santa Monica on Sept. 2, alleging that the May 2015 ordinance violates the U.S. Constitution’s First and Fourth amendments.
Santa Monica is the third California city to be sued by Airbnb. In this suit, the company says Santa Monica is going over the line for demanding several requirements of property owners, including providing their business licenses on online listings. It also says that Airbnb would be held accountable if hosts do not follow such rules.
“Santa Monica's clumsily written law punishes hosts who depend on home sharing to make ends meet and travelers looking for low-cost accommodations near the beach,” said Alison Schumer, a spokeswoman for Airbnb.
“The city is unwilling to make necessary improvements to its draconian law, so while this isn’t a step we wanted to take, it’s the best way to protect our community of hosts and guests.”
Airbnb noted in court filings that its lawsuit is similar to others filed against the city of Anaheim but were dismissed after the city informed Airbnb and HomeAway that its law would not apply to hosting platforms if it were determined to violate federal and state laws.
The local Santa Monica resident, Rosenblatt, is asking for general damages, punitive damages, interest, court costs and any other deals the court will allow. Attorneys Robert L. Esensten and Jordan S. Esensten of Esensten Law are representing Rosenblatt in the case.