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Manhattan Beach May Not Restrict Short Term Rentals

The local cities of Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach have each experienced citizen complaints about “party houses” arising with homes advertised like hotels as short term home rentals on Airbnb.  Neighbors will report excessive noise, parking problems, trash on the street and finding vomit on the sidewalk or road outside caused by someone drinking to excess.

What have the cities done in response?  They have cited the homeowners for violation of various municipal codes.
The Gist of this Article: The City of Manhattan Beach may not restrict short-term home rentals, such as those on Airbnb, in violation of the certain ordinances it passed and had certified by the California Coastal Commission in 1994.        
Mr. Darby Keen owns property in Manhattan Beach.  He rented it on a short-term basis.  The City of Manhattan Beach sent Keen a Notice of Violation on July 18, 2019, citing to a 2015 and 2019 city ordinance. 

In response, Keen petitioned the Los Angeles Superior Court for a writ of mandate to enjoin the City from enforcing such ordinances because the City of Manhattan Beach had not received approval for the ordinances from the California Coastal Commission, which reviews each ordinance for whether it unlawfully restricts public access to the beach. 

Public access to the beach, by law, is a California priority.  The California Coastal Commission enforces this priority by reviewing amendments beach towns make in municipal laws affecting coastal areas.

To understand Keen’s claim, it is valuable to understand some history of such ordinances in Manhattan Beach.  In 1994, the City of Manhattan Beach enacted certain zoning ordinances, which the Coastal Commission then certified.  These 1994 ordinances did permit short term rental of residential property. 

Twenty-five years later, Airbnb and similar residential rental websites had become quite popular and residents were more actively renting out homes for short term periods, leading to resident complaints of “party houses” with loud parties, trash, vomit on the sidewalks, public urination and parking problems.  Many houses became, essentially, hotels.

In response, the City of Manhattan Beach enacted various amendments to its zoning ordinances and cited homeowners who rented their homes out via Airbnb, etc., in violation of such new zoning ordinances.  Keen received one these citations, which is a criminal action.  In response, he filed a writ of mandate to stop the city from enforcing such ordinances.

The trial court judge assigned to review Keen’s writ of mandate, James C. Chalfant in the downtown Los Angeles Stanley Mosk Courthouse, agreed with Keen.  In a nineteen page, single-spaced tentative decision, which he adopted as his final ruling, Judge Chalfant found that the City of Manhattan Beach never obtained Coastal Commission approval of its recent ordinances restricting short-term rentals, so the criminal case against Keen was illegal itself.

Judge Chalfant rejected the City of Manhattan Beach’s claim that the zoning ordinances were not new and had been approved by the Coastal Commission.  Judge Chalfant therefore enjoined enforcement of the ban on short-term rentals pending Coastal Commission approval.

The City of Manhattan Beach then appealed this ruling to the Second Appellate District court in downtown Los Angeles.  The City’s main argument was that Judge Chalfant was wrong to read the ordinances from 1994 as always allowing short-term rentals.

The Second Appellate District, however, in a ruling filed April 6, 2022 (Darby T. Keen v. City of Manhattan Beach (2022 DJDAR 3377), affirmed Judge Chalfant.  It agreed with Chalfant that the City of Manhattan Beach’s old ordinances always permitted short-term rentals.  The ordinances did not distinguish between short-term and long-term (more traditional) rentals, so the law had to treat short-term rentals the same as long-term rentals.

We present this summary because we are aware the cities of Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach are often seen in court in Torrance in criminal actions against homeowners who have rented out their homes through Airbnb.  It is conceivable that El Segundo, San Pedro, Palos Verdes Estates, Rancho Palos Verdes, Santa Monica, Venice and Marina Del Rey may similarly attempt to restrict short-term rentals.

Consequently, the recent ruling by Judge Chalfant, affirmed by the Second Appellate District, may offer some defense, as it also discusses a series of arguments Manhattan Beach offered as alternatives to banning short-term rentals, arguments Redondo Beach or Hermosa Beach, may similarly argue, but which Judge Chalfant rejected.

The citation for the Second Appellate District Court ruling discussed above is Darby Keen v. City of Manhattan Beach (2nd App. Dist., 2022) 77 Cal. App. 5th 142, 292 Cal. Rptr. 3d 366.

For more information about governmental restrictions that are overbroad or vague, please click on the following articles:
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