The ongoing controversy over short-term rentals in Anaheim has flared again as residents are angry over recent tweaks the City Council made to a ban on the businesses it passed last June.
In recent years, aided by online hosting services like Airbnb and HomeAway, many owners of homes and apartments in the neighborhoods that ring Disneyland cashed in on the year-round influx of visitors to the mega resort.
It got to the point last year where some residents began showing up to city council meetings and complaining loudly about their formerly sleepy residential neighborhoods being taken over by a constant stream of tourists who clogged the streets and threw loud parties.
Council members finally stepped in last June and passed a ban on all short-term rentals and gave rental owners 18 months to phase out their businesses.
The ban faced almost immediate backlash from short-term-rental operators, who called many of the new regulations draconian.
Less than a month after the ban was approved, Airbnb and HomeAway filed lawsuits claiming that aspects of the ban violated property owners’ constitutional rights to free speech and equal protection; as well as the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which prohibits states and local jurisdictions from making websites liable for content created by its users.
The Anaheim Rental Alliance, a group of short term rental owners, has also filed suit challenging the new regulations for existing businesses.
Soon after the lawsuits were filed, the city decided not to enforce the provisions holding the websites liable for user-generated content. This prompted HomeAway and Airbnb to drop their suits.
“Our city attorney’s office reviewed those claims and we concluded that we would not prevail on that lawsuit so we agreed through negotiation not to enforce those provisions,” acting City Attorney Kristin Pelletier told the City Council.
At their December 20 regular meeting, council members unanimously approved amendments to the ordinance banning the rentals, striking sections that that require guests and owners to provide immediate access to city code enforcement and extending the deadline for some owners to phase out their businesses.
The council’s action followed concern expressed by Superior Court Judge William Claster, who is presiding over one of the lawsuits, that the regulations regarding access to code enforcement could violate the owners’ Fourth Amendment right to reasonable search and seizure, which prohibits warrantless searches, said Pelletier.
The amendments also give the city planning director the discretion to extend the phase-out or amortization period for certain businesses who file for a hardship extension by up to 45 days, in order to “ensure operators have sufficient time to assemble the information we’re requiring…and stave off any claim that our notice was not fair,” said Pelletier.
Residents who attended the December meeting said they felt blindsided by the changes and questioned why council members would remove regulations meant to address the problems that prompted them to pass the ban in the first place.
“In my opinion there is currently very poor enforcement on the current STR ordinance and the fact that they want to water it down even more infuriates me,” said Jeanine Robbins, an anti-STR activist whose family has spoken at nearly every council meeting to lambast Councilwoman Lucille Kring for her vote on the ban.
“Cities around the country are suing Airbnb – and they’re winning…and yet…Anaheim is backing down,” said Robbins
All other short term rentals must cease operations after February 18, 2018.
Contact Thy Vo at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.