Photos: Princess rooms, splash pads turn Anaheim homes into Disneyland destination rentals

When Michael Connelly used VRBO to book a home for his family’s Disneyland vacation five years ago, he fell in love with the concept.

With his irregular military schedule, he envisioned having a place in the states where he could spend time and relax with his family and, while he was away, rent it out to short-term lodgers looking to vacation in Orange County.

In 2012, while living in Bogota, Columbia, working as a civilian Air Force special agent, he spent his life savings on a down payment for a five-bedroom house across the street from Disneyland.

He went to the city and told officials his plans to rent out the home to vacationers.

“I wanted to make sure everything was OK,” Connelly said. “They said it’s the exact same process as long-term rentals.”

Fifteen houses later, Connelly’s My Castle House business has boomed. The 35-year-old left the Air Force last year to focus on managing the properties.

“The Disney market is hot,” said Connelly, who rents out a home for an average of $300 a night. “It’s been good. It started out a lot more lucrative than it currently is, (but) it’s better than having long-term rentals. But by no means are we getting rich. I wish.”

Walking through one My Castle House property, the exterior looked like any home in a quiet neighborhood in Anaheim. Green, manicured lawn and all. The first floor featured a large common area, kitchen with tile floors and a washer and dryer in a separate room that leads to a garage with a ping pong table. The back yard had a swimming pool and an area to barbecue.

My Castle House offers properties with three to seven bedrooms, all with their own, mostly Disney-inspired, themes carried through in the decor. Pirate’s Lair, house no. 16, had a bedroom with artwork akin to “Pirates of the Caribbean” downstairs, and upstairs kids could share a LEGO bunk bed with a slide and a pink princess bedroom.

“Kids enjoy it,” Connelly said. “Having themed rooms allows us to bring in the families as guests that we wanted.”

Connelly, a member of the Anaheim Rental Alliance, a group of homeowners who operate short-term rentals, has emerged as the face of rental owners in Anaheim … and the target for opponents’ ire. At a recent City Council meeting, the mayor had to urge public speakers to air their grievances to the council and not directly at Connelly, who was seated in the audience.

Short-term rentals have become a divisive topic in this city that attracts more than 25 million people a year with the Anaheim Convention Center, Disneyland Resort, Angel Stadium and the Honda Center.

The City Council on June 29 will host a special meeting to decide the fate of the rentals in Anaheim.

For months, residents have been complaining at council meetings that neighborhoods have become “residential hotels,” and that these vacationers are too noisy, leave trash in and around the neighborhood and fill up parking spaces.

“It’s ruining the sanctity of the neighborhoods,” said Mayor Tom Tait, who is pushing to have the current moratorium on new permits turned into a ban on all.

Anaheim started to regulate short-term rentals in 2014; 365 have been permitted, according to city records. Operators pay an annual $250 registration fee to cover the city’s cost to monitor and inspect the properties, and guests who use these homes pay a 15 percent tax – the same rate they’d pay if staying at a local hotel.

From July 1 through March 31, the city collected $2.6 million in bed taxes from short-term rentals, city records show.

Proponents of Anaheim’s short-term rental market say the city has adopted regulations penalizing the operators for tenants’ bad behavior – giving them the incentive to better address neighbors’ complaints. And, they said, the bed tax collected helps pay down the city’s debts and contributes to the general fund.

Connelly said he started his business because he didn’t want to get tied down with having a long-term renter.

He’s upgraded each property to feed the growing demand. He brought in a partner, Talmadge Price, who was a classmate at BYU and is a financial consultant.

“Our model is different,” Price said, explaining they cater to large families who hosts reunions. “There’s a huge demand for single-family homes. I can’t rent a room in a house for 12 of us and it would be too expensive to get six hotel rooms.”

These homes are a place where families can come together for a short time, Connelly said.

“Our typical guests is grandma, grandpa, two kids and their five grandkids,” he said. “It’s multi-generational. … They can swim in the pool, spend the day at Disneyland, and when you put your kids to bed at 8 p.m., everyone can come to the common area, talk, converse, play games. It brings families closer together.”

According to city records, Connelly’s properties have been cited for minor code violations such as trash cans being left in public view, un-permitted construction and watering on days not allowed under conservation restrictions. Each violation resulted in a paid fine or was dismissed by the city.

“We’ve had a few problems,” Connelly said, “but these issues were easily taken care of.“

Connelly said they mostly have a good relationship with their neighbors, who know how to reach the owners if there is a problem. They carefully screen short-term renters. They’ve hired a property manager who lives within five minutes of each of their properties, and they are in the process of installing audio and video surveillance outside to monitor their homes.

Ron Bengochea, 69, lives next to one of Connelly’s West Anaheim homes, and a handful of other homes used as short-term rentals.

“I believe they’ve improved the neighborhoods,” Bengochea said. He said he hadn’t experienced any problems. “The values of the houses go up. They come in and remodel the homes, upgrade them and it’s pleasing to look at…

“Anaheim has to be stronger in enforcing their policy,” he said. “I would like the city to keep these homes and maybe restrict the numbers in the neighborhoods.”

But, Charlotte Seidnematollah, 66, said a short-term rental home in her West Anaheim neighborhood – not owned by Connelly – has, “ruined our quality of life. It’s like living behind a motel that brings in different and a lot of people every night…

“The neighborhood is about connecting with neighbors,” she said. “Not like this monster. I hope they ban them.”

Connelly said he’s nervous about the upcoming council meeting. His wife is pregnant with their fourth child and he’s worried about possibly losing his source of income. (The city proposal says if an all-out ban was adopted, current rental owners would be phased out.)

“I think the City Council members will make the correct decision,” Connelly said. “There’s a very good solution that will allow STRs compatible with neighborhoods, and I think they’ll come up with a correct solution.”

Contact the writer: 714-796-2443 or or follow on Twitter @OCDisney

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