Saturday, May 25, 2024

Crowds, Noise, Murder: Are L.A.’s Lux Short-Term Rentals Worth the Cost?

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An increasingly ubiquitous part of our cultural zeitgeist, the short-term rental horror story has become both a rite of passage and a warning for some of the most exclusive neighborhoods in the country—and nowhere more so than in Los Angeles. The nightmarish complications of short-term rentals have been the basis of terrifying films, docuseries, Reddit fodder and crowdsourced lists covering everything from an Airbnb that allegedly became a pop-up brothel to a medley of double-booking disasters. One Boston couple even made headlines in 2018 when their Los Angeles stay descended into madness as their Airbnb superhost broke in through their bedroom window one night.  

Amusing anecdotes aside, however, two increasingly common features of these homes away from home are crime and death. On Saturday, three people were shot dead and four others wounded during a party at a short-term rental property in the affluent Westside neighborhood of Beverly Crest—afterward, sources told LAMag, some of the revelers returned to rob the place. The incident was shocking but not without precedent. In 2020, one person was killed and two wounded when roughly 20 shots were fired at party at a short-term rental mansion on Mulholland Drive—in the same Beverly Crest neighborhood as Saturday’s mass shooting—shortly after a neighbor had called in a noise complaint to the police.

Kennie D. Leggett, who identified himself as the head of security for the party, said the time, “We have money… We are people. This, COVID I mean, is just pushing us out everywhere, and we have nothing, so the only thing we do have is Airbnbs to rent, swimming pools for our kids, to do big things and things of that nature.” 

In this observation, Leggett pinpoints a novelty of Los Angeles’ short-term rental market that has undoubtedly contributed to its success. It offers the chance to spend a night in some of the most luxurious and elite digs in the country. There’s a historic Laurel Canyon home John Lennon once visited, accessible by private tram, the multi-level homes built into the hillside between Las Flores Canyon and the ocean, and even a legit Hollywood Hills castle complete with turrets. Yet, these are nothing compared to the city’s loftier offerings—like the Hollywood Hills 16,000 square-foot “Hype House” for $50,000 a month, or a 10,000 square-foot, seven-bedroom Malibu dream house, complete with 51 acres, a private tennis court, waterfalls and heated pool for $5,500 nightly.  

This temporary citizenship in the world of infinity pools and glass-walled balconies, 25-foot ceilings and sun-dappled ocean scapes a stone’s throw from your backyard, is perhaps what’s contributed to L.A.’s ranking as #4 in Airbnb’s list of top 10 most profitable areas for new hosts in 2021. In 2022, meanwhile, it ranked #2 on a list of destinations with the highest share of long-term stay ready listings in the U.S. and #1 on a list of most popular U.S. long-term stay destinations.  

Then again, it also leaves one vulnerable to the pitfalls of such a fickle industry. In 2022, Better Neighbors LA—a coalition of housing advocates, workers, neighborhood groups, and businesses—published a study that found as many as two-thirds of Los Angeles Airbnb listings were operating out of compliance. This was preceded by serious moves in 2020 to better regulate short-term rentals and L.A.’s strategy of enforcing Airbnb rules. Even further back, according to a dataset published by the Los Angeles Police Department in 2020, the number of crime victims in short-term vacation rentals jumped 555% from 2017-2019. 

Investigating the potential link between short-term rentals and crime in Boston, Dan O’Brien, associate professor of public policy and urban affairs at Northeastern, along with associate professor of engineering Babak Heydari, published a study in 2021 exploring public opinion that the presence of Airbnb and other short-term rentals can lead to an increase in crime and disorder in residential neighborhoods. The market of “transient housing,” O’Brien told Northeastern Global News, “pokes holes in the social fabric of the neighborhood.” O’Brien and Heydari argue that the influx of short-term housing undermines a neighborhood’s ability to discourage crime, specifically violent crime.

The link between crime and short-term rentals seems particularly stark in L.A. On top of the shootings, last April another Beverly Crest Airbnb was robbed of $75,000 worth of cash and goods. While O’Brien and Heydari cite limited Los Angeles data in their study, they leave open the possibility that their findings might have far-reaching implications.

“We see that the penetration of Airbnb has a role in a gradual increase in crime,” Heydari notes. “That effect is not specific to Boston, although other cities and neighborhoods may contain factors that change the degree to which it presents.”

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