On the first of December, buyers (who have asked to remain nameless) closed a deal for their new home at 849 S. Citrus Ave., where they were looking forward to moving in with their two young children. A few days later, the sellers of that home, who had not yet moved out, noticed new rental tenants moving into the home next door, at 855 S. Citrus. According to one of the sellers, they were happy to see the new family next door, so they went over to introduce themselves and to let the newcomers know a new family with young children would also be moving into their house soon, which seemed like a great thing for all involved.
But over the next few days, the sellers of also 849 noticed a large number of bunk beds being moved into 855, and called the non-resident owner of that home, Jordan Shokrian, to find out what was going on. Shokrian told them he had rented the house to a new tenant family, but the family did not need all the bedrooms at the property and would be renting out some of the extra space.
At the same time, another Citrus Ave. neighbor, who also requested anonymity, also noticed the activity at 855, and went to introduce himself to the new tenants, who told him they were planning to run a 24-bed hostel at the property (which is zoned for R1 single family use). This was not good news to any of the neighbors, some of whom had reported a number of disturbances over the last two years when 855 was rented out by Shokrian as a sober living home. (Note: while sober living homes are legal under current R1 zoning designations, hostels are not.)
Since the second neighbor’s visit, the residents have confirmed that the property has been advertised on Booking.com as the “Say Home Hostel,” where the listing is set up to accept reservations for up to 30 guests at a time. Listing photos also confirm the presence of a large number of very spartan bunk beds in the house…not just in the bedrooms, but also in corners of the former living room.
And it wasn’t long before neighbors started to see a regular stream of guests coming and going at 855, at all hours of the day and night. Some also reported hostel guests parking in their private driveways, and, on December 31, the second neighbor said he and his spouse were awakened around 1:30 a.m. by a woman knocking on their door, thinking it was the hostel, and saying she had a reservation to stay there.
Both the buyers and sellers of 849 S. Citrus, along with the other neighbors who were awakened, reported the situation to the property owner, and to City Council Member David Ryu’s office, as well as to the Department of Building and Safety.
But they say Shokrian has not responded to their complaints, and although the Department of Building and Safety sent several inspectors, none of them reported any violations. (Currently, the DBS inspection website records three recent code-related complaints at 855 S. Citrus. The first, on December 13, was a report that the home had been converted to another use. That complaint was closed with a finding of “no violation.” The second report, on December 20, was labeled a “duplicate service request.” And the third, on December 21, for a complaint of “Business Operated from a House or Garage” says only “Closed.”)
In fact, one of the neighbors says that after one of the inspections, when he called DBS to inquire about the findings, he was told that merely having a large number of bunk beds on the premises is not a code violation, because people are free to furnish their homes in any way they choose.
So the hostel remains in business as of this writing…and the situation seems to highlight the difficulties with current local laws regarding short-term rentals in the city, and the enforcement of those laws.
As most residents are aware, for better or worse (and there are many arguing both sides of the debate), short-term rentals of homes throughout the city have become extremely widespread in the last couple of years, thanks to the growing popularity of websites such as AirBnB, VRBO and Booking.com. But rentals of less than 30 days are still technically illegal in residential zones, according to the Los Angeles Municipal Code. Also, the code does not specifically permit the use of residentially-zoned properties as hotels, hostels or bed and breakfasts, all of which are considered commercial activity and are restricted to commercial zones. (If activities are not specifically allowed in a certain zone, then the city generally considers them illegal.)
But as the popularity of “home sharing” websites has increased, and because of the opportunity they create for individual homeowners to earn additional income from their properties, more and more people have been renting out space in their homes, despite the current legal prohibitions. Most of the short-term rental activity by individual homeowners tends to be limited to one guest at a time per room or home, though, so city enforcement of the current laws, especially with that kind of activity, has been minimal.
But occasionally rentals become so frequent (as with notorious “party houses” in certain neighborhoods), so widespread (as with some neighborhoods in tourist-heavy areas like Venice, where some blocks have no more full-time residents, only hotel guests) or so otherwise egregious – including occasional full-blown hostels like the Citrus property – that the City Council has been actively debating a proposed new short-term rental ordinance for the last couple of years. The new law would distinguish among various types of short-term rentals, and allow some lower-impact rentals while prohibiting those that are more detrimental to residential neighborhoods. That new law, however, has not been approved yet, and city council members are still discussing the fine points of the proposed regulations.
In the meantime, though, as short-term rentals and their abuses grow, city enforcement of the existing laws seems to be increasingly difficult.
Back in early 2016, when neighbors near Rosewood and Gramercy complained about the use of several homes in that area being used as the same kind of de-facto hostel as the one currently operating at 855 S. Citrus, neighbors of those properties were told by the Department of Building and Safety that simply advertising the rentals wasn’t illegal, but proof of actual short-term rental commerce – such as a receipt for a paid reservation – could qualify as proof of illegal rental activity. So the neighbors at that time made and paid for reservations at the property and presented the paperwork to the city, which issued an Order to Comply to the offending property owners just a few weeks later. That kind of Order is a key first step in city enforcement efforts, which can then – if the Order is ignored – escalate to the City Attorney’s office for more serious intervention. (Unfortunately, in the 2016 case, the Order did not resolve the situation, and the hostel activity continued for several months afterward, until the homes in question were torn down for the construction of a new apartment building.)
Several of the Citrus neighbors, aware of the earlier case, tried to follow the same path, made similar reservations at the new hostel, and sent in their receipts to city officials. But this time, they say, they were told by city officials that the receipts might not be enough, and that further proof of the hostel activity was needed.
So the new owners of 849 S. Citrus found a helper – referred to only as “Mr. C.” – who booked a reservation at 855, stayed overnight at the property, and documented his experience. In a summary provided to the Buzz, they write, “Mr. C. witnessed 7 other people staying there that night. The tenants do not live in the house property; they use the main house for the hostel and live in the guest house. There is a designated “smoking area” proximal to the neighbor’s backyard. Bunkbeds exist to accommodate at least 24 people with only 1 full bathroom and 1⁄2 bath.”
The report was forwarded to the city officials, along with Mr. C’s receipts for the stay, and while no formal actions have been taken yet, the neighbors say the report may have helped and they have heard that city enforcement wheels may now be turning. (Julia Duncan, Senior Planning Deputy for City Council Member David Ryu, told the Buzz a few days ago that while no specific actions have been taken yet, her office is “pushing” for action with both the Department of Building and Safety and the City Attorney’s office. Neighborhood Prosecutor Mehrnoosh Naderi has also told the neighbors that she will investigate if DBS files a report.)
At the same time, however, the neighbors are still wondering why the enforcement process is so difficult, especially in the face of what seems to be such a clear violation of local laws…and why so much of the effort seems to be falling on their shoulders. “I would like the City to take care of something that is a City problem,” one of them told the Buzz yesterday.
[Note – this story has been updated, at the request of one of the Citrus neighbors, to remove his name from the story.]