Manhattan Beach dowtown

People stroll through an intersection in downtown Manhattan Beach in 2016. City council recently voted to extend and start strict enforcement of a ban of short-term rentals in the city, leaving visitors no choice but to rent hotels. (File photo by Brad Graverson)

Los Angeles Superior Court late last month voided Manhattan Beach’s short term rental law, ruling that the legislation violates the California Coastal Act.

The court on June 25 ordered the city to either rescind a ban on short term rentals in the city or submit a coastal zone-specific ordinance to the Coastal Commission for review.

Prohibiting stays shorter than 30 days doesn't align with the Coastal Act's goal of protecting shoreline access, including overnight access, according to the court decision. The city's ban was not approved by the Coastal Commission, in which entity's direction supersedes what a city along the coast decides for its coastal zones, residential and commercial, which means the Manhattan Beach law was never truly enforceable.

If submitted and approved, the ordinance will serve as an amendment to Manhattan Beach’s Local Coastal Program, a system of coastal development permit procedures; or as a Coastal Development Permit, the decision reads.

"The Commission allows reasonable restrictions," said Frank Angel, the petitioner's attorney, by phone Tuesday, "But they don't allow what Manhattan Beach did: A categorical, absolute ban throughout every residential zone in the coastal zone."

The city still has local control over commercial areas in the coastal zone, the decision reads.

Manhattan Beach currently requires permits for short-term rentals in commercial zones, city attorney Quinn Barrow wrote in an email Tuesday, including within the Coastal Zone. Essentially, he added, the ruling affects only residential zones in the coastal zone.

The petitioner, Darby Keen, filed in July 2019. Barrow filed an opposition in February, claiming that Manhattan Beach has prohibited STRs since before 2015 in residential zones including the coastal zone as part of the LCP.

According to the decision, though, the city never received approval from the Coastal Commission for the ban, nor enforced it.

The Commission approved the LCP in the 1990s, Angel said, before online hosting platforms made short-term rentals prominent enough for a ban.

In 2015, when the city first introduced an ordinance to prohibit short-term rentals, it also submitted a coastal zone-specific ordinance in 2015 to the Commission to ban short-term rentals in the city, Angel said, withdrew it in 2017, then in 2019 implemented an overall ban without submitting coastal zone-specific language to the Commission for approval.

Manhattan Beach in April 2019 strengthened a citywide ordinance to make it a violation for short term rentals to be advertised, and introduced a $1,000 fine.

Barrow responded to Angel's judgement proposal, or a summary of the judge's order, last week with an alternate form of judgment, Barrow wrote, that the city believes more accurately reflects the court’s ruling.

A judgement hearing is set for August 25.  Once the decision is formalized, Barrow added, City Council will consider appealing it.

Escalating the case to state Court of Appeals, Angel said, would be a "dicey proposal" of the city at this point. Doing so could trigger more property owner complaints, he added, potentially suing the city for lost booking and other fees.

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