‘I don’t want my home to be used as a hotel’: Anaheim condo becomes tourist lodging without owner’s permission

“Beautiful 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom condo next to Angel Stadium. Only 2.5 miles from Disneyland. Secured parking structure, pool, jacuzzi, gym and sauna. Plenty of restaurants within walking distance.”

That Anaheim listing on the travel lodging website Airbnb – offered by “Marc” – screamed perfect Southern California vacation rental.

The condo sits near two of the region’s most popular attractions. It’s less than a half-hour from the ocean. And at $110 to $150 a night for an entire apartment with cool amenities, it’s a good deal.

What the listing doesn’t say is that the property owner is not “Marc,” but Kathy Marchetti, and that Marchetti had no idea her property was being used as a by-the-night rental to tourists from as far away as Victoria, Australia, and New York City. It also doesn’t say that the tenant, Giuliana Molinari, signed a one-year lease with Marchetti in January, at $1,475 a month, apparently specifically to run a short-term rental.

Molinari did not respond to multiple interview requests. And whether Marc is an online persona or someone who worked with the tenant isn’t clear from the online listing or other interviews. But Airbnb’s website does list Marc as a “verified” host, which involves connecting your profile to other personal information, such as your Facebook profile, phone number, email address or photo ID, according to Airbnb’s website.

Marchetti, a retired Los Angeles police lieutenant who lives near Dallas, was outraged when she learned her condo was listed online.

“I don’t want my home to be used as a hotel,” she said.

The situation is a new twist on an old real estate scheme – tenants making money by subletting properties without their landlords’ permission. Instead of subletting the properties by the month or the year, tenants now can use Airbnb, VRBO and other websites to peddle lucrative day-to-day deals to tourists in need of vacation rentals.

The short stays can generate two to three times the income tenants pay in monthly rent. And Molinari controlled at least one other condominium in the 390-unit complex, according to Marchetti. The second homeowner declined to be interviewed.

“These are the ones that really make me angry, purposefully doing yearlong leases without the intent of living there,” said Cris Sathre, a board member in Marchetti’s homeowners association.

Sathre said she became aware of unauthorized short-term rentals about a year ago and the problem has gained steam over the past six months. She said the association’s board is working on ways to end the practice at its complex.

But as Sathre and Marchetti learned, reining in short-stay rentals can be challenging.

After discovering in April that her property was listed on Airbnb, Marchetti told Molinari in writing to stop renting out the property. Soon after that, Molinari told Marchetti’s property manager that the listing had been removed.

But in early June, Marchetti learned that tourists were still staying in her property and that it was still being advertised on Airbnb – which was making at least $13 a night off of the listing, based on a $150 a night rate. The tenant stated in a June 6 email to Marchetti’s property manager that all Airbnb activity has ceased.

The short-term rental wasn’t just breaking the rules of Marchetti’s lease, but also city ordinances, Marchetti said.

Anaheim requires property owners renting out their homes for 30 days or less to apply for a short-term rental permit. In April, city officials extended their moratorium on new short-term rental permits until May 3, 2017, a response to a deluge of complaints from residents.

There is no short-term rental permit listed for Marchetti’s condo, according to the city of Anaheim. The city says the property owner ultimately also can be responsible for fines stemming from violations of the short-term rental restrictions.

Marchetti said when she contacted the city of Anaheim for help ending the short-term rental of her property, a code-enforcement official offered to issue a violation letter to Marchetti. The city said she could use the violation notice as evidence during any eviction proceedings.

Feeling stuck, Marchetti approached Airbnb for help. She sent documents to Airbnb showing that she, not Molinari or Marc, was the property owner, and that using the property as a short-term rental violated lease and city regulations.

Emails exchanged between Airbnb and Marchetti indicate the company didn’t want to play an active role in resolving the matter.

The company advised Marchetti late last month “that communicating directly with your tenant is the simplest way to address these types of complaints.”

A follow-up email to Marchetti explained: “Airbnb is an online platform and does not own, operate, manage or control accommodations.”

Airbnb officials declined to comment for this story, other than to say the listing was no longer active.

Marchetti argues that Airbnb could have done more, and sooner, because the company, according to its terms and conditions, can remove or disable any listing “at its sole discretion” if hosts violate those terms and conditions. Among those terms: agreeing to not violate any local regulations or breach any homeowner association or lease agreements.

“I’ve spent 40 hours on this already,” said Marchetti in early June. “I asked ‘What are the specific results of the complaint process?’ I can’t seem to get past the first person of customer service” at Airbnb.

Molinari recently cleared out the unit, Marchetti said, adding she is planning to go to small-claims court to seek remaining rent and damages. The process figures to be time-consuming and expensive, but a larger point needs to be made, she said.

“People are willing to do this thing,” she said, “because people are not willing to stop them.”

Contact the writer: lleung@ocregister.com

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