Last May, the city of Santa Monica approved a series of tough restrictions on short-term rentals commonly found on sites like Airbnb. Well, the popular hosting service struck back today, filing a lawsuit arguing that the city’s new rules violate the first, fourth, and fourteenth amendments.
Santa Monica has not been shy about enforcing its short-term rental restrictions, fining more than 890 individual hosts and even convicted one property owner who was using the site to advertise five different rental properties. In July, KPCC reported that the city had also slapped Airbnb itself with $20,000 in fines.
The company claims in the lawsuit that fines ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars have been rolling in steadily since the city’s ordinance went into effect. Airbnb maintains that it has paid all the fines, despite its belief that they are unjustified.
The company argues in the suit that it should not be held responsible for users of the site that violate restrictions imposed by the city. Under Santa Monica’s ordinance, hosts cannot rent a house or a unit for less than a month unless they will be staying on-site with the guest. Other restrictions include requirements that hosts register with the city and ensure their offered units meet municipal fire and safety codes.
If hosts violate some or all of these requirements, Airbnb can be held liable for not removing their listings. The suit argues that the only way the company could comply with the city’s rules would be to "regularly visit the physical location of each listing" to make sure everything was on the level.
The lawsuit also argues that the city’s requirement that Airbnb disclose the names and addresses of Santa Monica-based users is an invasion of privacy and violates due process rights under the fourth amendment.
Airbnb spokesperson Alison Schumer tells the LA Times that "Santa Monica's clumsily written law punishes hosts who depend on home sharing to make ends meet and travelers looking for low-cost accommodations near the beach."
City officials, on the other hand, have been pleased with the law’s effect on the overall number of Airbnb listings in the area. In July, city spokesperson Constance Farrell told KPCC that the number of listings had more than halved since the ordinance went into effect the year before.
One of the first cities to pass tough restrictions on short-term rentals, Santa Monica’s ordinance was seen as a test case for how to regulate the growing short-term rental economy, which critics say takes badly needed rental units off the market and allows major property owners to operate what amount to unlicensed hotels.
This isn’t the first time the hosting service has sued cities over their short-term rental regulations. It’s also done so in San Francisco and, most recently in Anaheim—where lawmakers have decided to do away with short-term rentals all together.