SUNNYVALE — A month after a shooting during an Airbnb party left a teenager dead, the city of Sunnyvale is considering how it may beef up its short-term rental ordinance.
In a study session Tuesday night, city council members batted around various ideas to rework the local law, including bigger fines or enhanced registration requirements, but stopped short of coming to any conclusions about what policy changes, if any, could have helped to prevent the Aug. 7 killing.
That evening, hundreds of teenagers poured into a Raynor Park house for a party before gunfire broke out around 10 p.m. and killed 18-year-old Elias Elhania.
The Navarro Drive home was not registered among the city’s list of approved short-term rentals from which it collects taxes, but staff do not regularly cross-check rentals on the Airbnb platform with the list. While there are 78 registered units, an estimated 270 are active within the city, said Deputy City Manager Jacqui Guzman — a key point of discussion during Tuesday’s meeting.
“Without the ability to enforce it — or the willingness to enforce it — it’s just words on paper,” Councilmember Russ Melton said of the current ordinance.
Guzman explained a range of options for enhancing the ordinance: Upping fines for violations into the thousands as opposed to hundreds of dollars, requiring proof of primary residence at the time of registration, asking that hosts provide their registration number in online advertisements, or making it illegal even to advertise a home as “unhosted,” in addition to unhosted rentals themselves being illegal.
“Unhosted” refers to the homeowner not being on the property during rental periods, as occurred on Navarro Drive.
Rather than rewriting the law, the city could also choose to actively enforce the current ordinance. The city of Orinda hired an independent company to cross-check its registrations with online listings after five young people were killed during a 2019 Halloween party.
Councilmembers asked to host another study session to detail each option fully and explore projected costs. Several members said that they wanted to consider increasing fines, which currently start at $100 for the first violation.
“I’m especially interested in knowing we have enough tools for these particularly egregious situations, that we can really bring down the hammer on somebody,” said Councilmember Gustav Larsson.
Airbnb has weathered criticism for its response to the swell of shootings at its listings nationwide. After the Orinda shooting, it banned “party homes” and created a neighborhood hotline for neighbors, although it has previously declined to answer questions from this news organization about how it enforces its ban.
More than 100 shootings have occurred in the past two years alone at short-term rental properties in United States and Canada, with at least four incidents in Northern California.
Councilmember Alysa Cisneros pointed out that the city’s current ordinance was little-known by residents before the shooting, meaning that unregistered listings often slide by unnoticed.
A Navarro Drive resident who called into the public comment portion of the meeting said that he and his wife “had no idea” that the home was in violation of city rules.
Since 2015, the city has collected about $1.7 million from transit occupancy taxes on short-term rentals, money that he called upon the city to use to fund more Department of Public Safety officers or implementation of the current policy.
“There are some nice ordinances in place, but there’s no enforcement,” the neighbor said. “I know it takes resources, but there are resources coming in that could have been used.”