A vacation rental in an Anaheim neighborhood near Disneyland. (Photo credit: unknown)

They’re a “nightmare” and a “cancer.” They leave behind trash, beer bottles and even a crack pipe. They could spread disease, and possibly harbor child molesters. They create “an atmosphere of unconscionable greed.”

These were some of the words Anaheim residents at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting used to describe short-term rentals, a business model whereby home owners rent out their houses to travellers on sharing websites like Airbnb.

This business is booming in Anaheim and in destination cities across the world, and many residents say it’s tearing apart the fabric of their communities, turning once quiet neighborhoods into mini-motel districts. Anaheim’s problems are most acute in the neighborhoods surrounding Disneyland.

City officials say there are already about 400 short-term rentals in the city — a number that doubled in one year — and they’ve received on average five to 10 new applications a week. An opponent of the businesses who studied the issue says the number is closer to 600.

One resident said investors have been going door-to-door, making all cash offers at 125 percent of a home’s appraised value.

The operators, meanwhile, say residents are vastly overstating the problems caused by short-term rentals and insisted that regulations can be enhanced without killing the business altogether.

After hearing testimony from residents and operators, the council unanimously decided to extend a 45-day moratorium on new short-term rental permit applications for another six months.

Council members first enacted the moratorium last month to give city staff an opportunity to overhaul an ordinance intended to regulate the businesses. They extended the moratorium so they could receive additional input from residents and operators and craft a new ordinance.

Santa Ana also passed a moratorium, but lifted it during Tuesday’s council meeting after no one form the public objected, according to the Orange County Register. Officials in that city are still working on regulations, the Register reported.

Since the moratorium was first passed in Anaheim, city officials held separate meetings with short-term rental operators and residents with the hope of finding common ground.

But what they found was a wide gulf. Residents overwhelmingly said short-term rentals were essentially motels operating in residential zones and are incompatible with residential neighborhoods. Operators said they believed they could be good neighbors and the problem could be solved with more effective enforcement of the city’s regulations.

“Why are we allowing businesses into my neighborhoods?” Resident Lauren Wilson asked the council Tuesday night. “You would not allow me to open a bakery in my home. I tried. They told me no.”

In just a few years, residents said they’ve become surrounded by short-term rentals. Many of them have added several bedrooms to the homes so they can rent to larger numbers of people. Under the city’s ordinance, a single bedroom can house up to three guests.

The issue has quickly become a major political challenge for city officials. On Monday, the hotel workers union UNITE HERE Local 11 and Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development (OCCORD) held a news conference with residents announcing their opposition to short-term rentals.

Union representatives said the businesses threaten the livelihoods of hotel employees. And according to OCCORD, investors have been jacking up rents on tenants in order to oust residents and turn the properties into short-term rentals, making an already bad housing shortage in Anaheim even worse.

OCCORD Policy Analyst Clara Turner said any new ordinance targeting short-term rentals must include a ban on advertising to stop them from listing on websites that facilitate the renting. She also said the law should include a “private right of action,” whereby residents can seek legal actions against violators of the ordinance.

Mayor Tom Tait acknowledged that the businesses were posing a serious threat to neighborhoods.

“You can have friends over for a drink or for a party. If you do that every night and start charging, it becomes a bar. You can’t have that,” Tait said, adding that an outright ban might not be “unreasonable.”

Operators who attended the meeting said a lot of misinformation is being spread around and pleaded with council members to not believe everything the residents were telling them. They insisted they maintain their properties well and don’t rent to locals who throw parties.

One woman, who broke into tears while at the speakers’ podium, said it was unfair to call operators child molesters. She added that the trash on the property she rents out was dropped there by residents who wanted to frame her as a bad operator.

Anaheim resident Joshua Rich, a motorcycle stuntman for movies, said he only rents his home when his work obliges him to travel for weeks at a time. It’s helped him make extra money while he’s gone and have a house sitter, he said.

“I’m just a private home owner who’s trying to live out his Hollywood dream. Please don’t take that opportunity away from me,” Rich said.

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: @adamelmahrek

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