Santa Monica’s dumb anti-AirBnB legislation

Am traveling right now (to attend my father’s retirement party – 43 years teaching at RPI!) so am going to keep this brief.

Santa Monica is close to passing a law that would effectively ban sh0rt-term rentals where the owner of the property is not present.

So, basically, you can rent out a room in your apartment on AirBnB but not the whole apartment.

I get that Santa Monica is trying to counter the recent trend of owners using the Ellis Act to clear out rent control apartments for use as quasi-hotel rooms.

But that use of the Ellis Act is wrong for the same reason the proposed legislation is wrong. There’s no logical distinction between a six day lease and a six month lease.

So, you shouldn’t be able to kick out a long term tenant in order to rent short term, but neither should you be prevented from renting short-term.

Some thoughts on homelessness

Yesterday’s LA Times had a piece about advocates for the homeless challenging LA’s ban on sleeping on the beach.

This got me thinking about the situation in Venice and around Skid Row downtown, where thousands of homeless people sleep outside, on public property.

As a repositioner of apartment buildings, I have a special obligation to be sensitive about homelessness. After all, what we do inarguably contributes to higher rents, and therefore increases the risk of homelessness.

Fixing homeless nation-wide would not be that expensive. In 2012, there were approximately 633,000 homeless people. Assuming $150k / dwelling unit constructed, you’re looking at around $100B, which would be 2.6% of this year’s federal budget.

The reason we don’t is that doing so would screw up the incentive for people a few notches up the ladder. Imagine you’re working two jobs to cloth, feed and house your family, and then someone else, who isn’t, gets free housing. You’d feel like a chump. And, at the margins, plenty of people like you would quit working and move into government-provided housing.

I have no idea how to resolve this dilemma, and neither does anyone else, which is why homelessness isn’t solved.

But I’ll tell you what is not the solution: Allowing people without homes to annex public property for their sleeping quarters, either on the beach or downtown.

Public property is for the enjoyment of the whole public. It’s not ok for anyone to arrogate to himself the right to possess any part of it.

An intriguing article about murder in LA

The LA Times has an interesting article today about the release of a study recently completed on the nature of homicide in LA.

Characteristically, the Times buries the ledes: Of the 260 homicides in LA during 2014, 62% of all homicides in LA are gang-related.

While gangsters occasionally kill non-gangsters, the vast majority of gang-related killings involve victims who are also gang-affiliated.

If you strip out the gang-related killings, you’re left with 125 homicides in a city of 3.9MM people, a homicide rate of 0.0032%.

In other words, if you’re not in a gang, your risk of being intentionally killed by another human being are vanishingly small, so small that it’s literally not worth thinking about.

But here’s a question: Why aren’t the police doing more about gangs?

Norms is a historical landmark? Really?

There’s a big argument going on about whether the Norms Restaurant on La Cienega ought to be landmarked.

The argument illustrates everything that is wrong with the manner in which historical preservation is carried out in LA.

In LA, historical preservation is basically reactive. In other words, the community waits for a developer to pull a demolition permit. Then, people get really angry and start demanding someone “do something” about the threatened loss of some irreplaceable treasure (in this case, a prime example of Googie architecture from the 1950s). So, the city races to landmark the structure before the evil developer can pull it down.

Can you see what’s wrong with this picture? Can you imagine how screwed up it is that a developer can get the money together to do a project, actually buy the land, and then find that he can’t build what he was planning, not because he ignored any existing city rules, but because the rules were changed on him mid-stream?

That’s really, really bad public policy, because it increases the uncertainty associated with all development projects, thereby increasing the risk, thereby raising the hurdle rate a project needs to get over to get funding… and, therefore, reducing the number of projects that get built.

So, here’s a suggestion: Gather all the historical preservation folks. Proactively identify the buildings they want to save. Have a big fight up front, wherein some are included and some excluded from the protection list. Then, put in place a regular process for adding / subtracting from the list which includes a “warning period”, where buildings which might be subject to protection are identified as such well before they are actually protected.

The process outlined above would allow for reasonable historic preservation without creating uncertainty that unnecessarily retards development.

Termites, housing and LAHD

You might be wondering how termites and the Housing Department intersect. I’m going to tell you.

First, a bit about termites: In Southern California, most structures are constructed from wood. This is because wood is cheap, durable, and holds up well in earthquakes (because it’s flexible). The main downside to wood construction, which is that wood deteriorates rapidly in damp conditions, is irrelevant in our desert-like climate. So wood is great for SoCal, except… termites love to eat it and they will, given enough opportunity.

In order to stop termites from eating buildings, you tent them periodically. For $3-8k (depending on the size of the building), a company comes, puts up a gigantic tent over the structure, and pumps the tent (and, thus, the structure) full of gas that poisons termites and other insects.

The problem with this procedure is that no one can be in the building for the 2-3 days it takes to tent it.

With single family homes, this is not a big deal. The family goes to a hotel or grandma’s or whatever for a few days and the job is done.

With apartment buildings, it’s a disaster. Why? Because you need to coordinate removing all of the tenants from the building at the same time, housing them somewhere, and then returning them to the building thereafter.

Given that termite tenting is necessary for the continued existence of a building, you would think that LAHD would have a simple procedure for ensuring that would:

  • Allow the landlord to get tenants out of her building to tent it; and
  • Require the landlord to compensate the tenants for the inconvenience and expense

Does the housing department have such a policy? Of course not.

So, what happens is that each time a building needs to be tented, the landlord needs to engage in a whole round of negotiation with his tenants in order to get them to move out for a few days. The result is bruised feelings, untented buildings, and tenants who (because they don’t know their rights) receive less-than-fair compensation.

Given the city’s demonstrable interest in preserving its aging stock of wood-framed apartment buildings, you’d think LAHD would sort this out, but I’m not holding my breath.