City Officials Ramp Up Effort to End Short-Term Rentals in Irvine

City Officials Ramp Up Effort to End Short-Term Rentals in Irvine
The Irvine City Hall and Civic Center building in Irvine, Calif., on Oct. 12, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Chris Karr

The City of Irvine has taken an extra step to reduce short-term rentals on properties in the Southern California city.

The City Council unanimously passed a zoning code amendment to prohibit online platforms such as Airbnb and Homeshare from allowing transactions within city limits. According to the ordinance, the platforms must prevent anyone seeking to rent an Irvine property for less than 30 consecutive days—or face litigation.

“Our job is to protect the people of Irvine, it's to protect neighborhoods, it's to protect the quality of life that Irvine has become known for,” Councilmember Anthony Kuo said at the Jan. 12 meeting.

“Whatever happened to knowing who your neighbor was? If you've got a short-term rental next door, you literally don't know who your neighbor is. It might change every night.”

Keri Bullock, the city's neighborhood services administrator, pointed out that previous regulations adopted since 2018 have made an impact. In May 2019, Irvine had over 1,500 short-term rentals being advertised; now there are fewer than 600 listings.

Bullock, who supervises the city’s code enforcement team, suggested even more can be done to eliminate short-term rentals, which she said have “impacted neighborhoods and generated calls for parking issues, loud parties, and property neglect.”

She said the city has issued several citations during the past year and a half, but has made an effort to avoid citing owners who were unaware of the law. She was only aware of one case of a property owner who wound up in court.

“They knew it was against the law, [but] they just kept doing it,” Bullock said, adding that the city's "focus is to make sure everyone is aware of the law before we punish or enforce against someone.”

Irvine is the first city in Orange County to enact such regulations. The new ordinance was modeled on measures taken in Santa Monica and San Francisco.

Deputy City Attorney Noam Duzman said officials in Santa Monica reported “significant improvement” in decreasing short-term rentals since they began working alongside online platforms.

All five of the public comments submitted at the council meeting supported the new ordinance.

One resident said the initiative was “very welcome,” and alleged that a short-term renter had operated an illegal drug operation nearby.

“The Irvine police investigated, and this illegal activity ceased,” the resident said. “While the city has been willing to investigate these cases, catching the offenders in the act proves to be difficult.”

Another resident said short-term rentals have become a “big problem.”

“We have to play [Whac-A-Mole] and report each listing,” the comment said. “Most times, the listing will later reappear [and] we have to report the same listing over and over again. Not to mention the parking, noise, and trash issues. These visitors don't care and leave our HOA [homeowners' association] to deal with their mess after their stay.”

Vice Mayor Tammy Kim raised concerns about identifying listings that appear in other languages.

“In a matter of five minutes, I was able to find multiple listing sites for Irvine-based short-term rentals in Chinese, and I don't even speak Chinese,” she said.

Kim asked what steps were being taken by Host Compliance, the company contracted by Irvine to track short-term rental listings across 50 online platforms, to address this issue.

Bullock said the company’s software “does not handle 100 percent non-English websites,” but they're working on improvements.

“What other vendors are we looking at right now?” Kim asked. “Because if they're not able to do this, or if they don't have the software, maybe they just have to get a human being to do this for the time being.”

Bullock said the city’s contract with Host Compliance runs through the end of the year.

“We can absolutely look at other vendors,” she said. “[But] we're trying to improve the service that we currently have.”

Fullerton, Newport Beach, and Costa Mesa are among the other Orange County cities that have also passed recent ordinances regulating short-term rentals in their areas.

Chris Karr is a California-based reporter for the The Epoch Times. He has been writing for 20 years. His articles, features, reviews, interviews, and essays have been published in a variety of online periodicals.