On February 16, 2016, the Buzz reported that a large number of short-term rental locations, operating as by-the-bunk bookings on AirBnB, were causing problems for residents in the Maplewood-Gramercy-Clinton area. Resident Jason Peers had complained to city authorities about the troublesome concentration of such businesses in the area, citing lack of maintenance and lack of supervision, with “people coming and going all hours of the night and the properties…in general disarray.”
Peers reports that since then, however, there have been several positive developments in the situation and, thanks to action by him and several city officials, at least one of the short-term-rental building owners has been cited for violations of the city Municipal Code.
The positive actions began almost as soon as the situation came to light in February.
First, after City Council District 4 Field Deputy Nikki Ezhari heard about the problem from both Peers and members of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council (at its February meeting), she sent an inquiry to the Department of Building and Safety’s Code Enforcement Bureau. Principle Inspector John Whipple replied in an e-mail to Peers and others concerned that while short-term rentals are not allowed in the area, the city cannot act against property owners without specific evidence of the rental activity. “We cannot use online listings as evidence,” said Whipple in the e-mail…but he added that “rental agreements between the owner and the renter, or statements from the owner stating that he/she rents it out for less than 30 days,” would qualify.
So Peers took matters into his own hands, made a paid reservation for a three-night rental at one of the properties, and sent the receipts to Mr. Whipple…who replied on March 8 that an inspector had been sent to the property, and an Order to Comply has been issued to owners of both 518 and 526 N. Gramercy.
The Order, shown below, notes that “Short term rental is not allowed in the Residential Zone,” and requires the owners to discontinue the activity within in 15 days of April 10, 2016 or be fined $660. Failure to pay the fine within 30 days of the due date will result in a doubled fine, along with a 50% collection fee, totaling more than $2,300. Misdemeanor charges could also be filed for a continued violation.
While this is all good news so far for neighbors, it remains to be seen whether the properties in question do comply with the Order by April 10. Also, in a phone call this morning, David Lara, Public Information Officer for the Department of Building and Safety, confirmed that the current action affects only the two properties named in the current Order. Other properties that may be conducting similar bunk-house style rentals (of which there still seem to be a large number on AirBnB), will be handled on a case-by-case basis, and would require the same kind of specific evidence to trigger a city inspection and citation.