H-SAN LUIS OBISPO

Aug 15, 2013 12:07 AM by Cameron Polom, KSBY News

50 homeowners breaking the law in SLO

There were at least 50 people breaking the law in the city of San Luis Obispo Wednesday by listing rooms for rent on a website called Airbnb.

The question is, what to do about it?

A few years ago, Airbnb developed as a place where people with empty rooms could rent them out short-term. Initially, it wasn't a problem until the website exploded in popularity.

During a PG&E outage a few years ago, Karen Hale allowed a few workers who were in from out of town to stay at her home for two months for a set price. That's when a light bulb went off.

"We enjoyed it so much we decided we'd start advertising," said Hale. "We found Airbnb online by accident, really. We were looking for how people do this other than have friends tell other friends."

Airbnb is a website that allows homeowners to connect with short-term renters. It allows a rental to be advertised with prices for the night, week or month.

"We're probably one of the first people in San Luis Obispo to do it," said Hale. "I told a lot of friends about it and they started becoming hosts. People independently heard about it and they became hosts."

After using the site to rent out a room for some time, Karen came out to her mail box at the end of July and was surprised at what she found inside.

"It was a cease and desist letter for August 12th," said Hale.

The letter said Karen could no longer rent a room for fewer than 30 days due to a city ordinance. She was told she had until August 12th to remove herself from the website or face monetary fines.

Karen has since complied with the letter but is now working with other local Airbnb users to negotiate a new ordinance with the city.

"Everybody wants to pay the bed tax, everybody's willing to pay a business tax," said Hale. "Nobody has a problem with any of that. There just hasn't been an avenue to do that yet."

So what's next? Karen and people like her are trying to get the issue in front of the city to make the rental of rooms legal. However, at this point, they are not.

KSBY spoke with four local bed and breakfasts and four major hotel operators today and they told us they do not see people using Airbnb as legitimate competition.

Other communities have wrestled with this problem with Airbnb and it extends beyond taxes into unfair competition, and the fact that some people want neighborhoods to be full of people they know and not strangers.

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