Update on Manhattan Beach Coastal Zone Short-Term Vacation Rental Litigation

Angel Law is pleased to announce that on April 6, 2022, the California Court of Appeal issued its opinion finding no merit to the city of Manhattan Beach’s appeal from the Los Angeles County Superior Court judgment we secured in August 2020, invalidating the city’s sweeping ban on rentals for less than 30 days (short-term rentals) in the residential districts of the Manhattan Beach coastal zone.

Like the Superior Court, the Court of Appeal found that the Manhattan Beach city council proceeded in violation of the California Coastal Act of 1976 by refusing to submit its exclusionary short-term rental regulatory scheme to the California Coastal Commission for public review and approval. The appellate court forcefully stated that the city may not forbid coastal visitors from “getting a room near the beach. By law, public access to the beach is a California priority.”

That law—the Coastal Act—promulgates public access and recreation policies that ensure daytime as well as overnight access to the coastal zone. Under the Coastal Act, the city may not enforce its short-term rental restrictions without an amendment to its local coastal program (its land use plan and ordinances for the Manhattan Beach coastal zone), approved by the Coastal Commission in 1994. Such an amendment must be publicly vetted by the Coastal Commission and the commission may not approve it if it finds that it violates the Coastal Act’s policies that protect and foster coastal access and recreation for the general public.

Anticipating rejection by the Coastal Commission of its drastic short-term rental prohibitions, the city claimed they did not need Coastal Commission approval, insisting its local coastal program always forbade short-term rentals by not “expressly” permitting them. But neither did the city’s local coastal program ever expressly permit rentals for 30 days or more, yet the city freely admitted those longer rentals were never forbidden. The court roundly rejected the city’s self-contradictory, if clumsy, attempt to segregate short-term and vacation renters from renters for 30 days or more, ruling that the city’s interpretive dichotomy “makes no sense.” “Because its ordinances say nothing about the duration of rentals, the City cannot credibly insist its ordinances permit long-term residential rentals but have always banned short-term rentals.”

Categorical short-term rental bans in the coastal zone are a barrier to the coast. They violate the Coastal Act, which requires local governments to provide “maximum access” and “recreational opportunities” for all the people. They foreclose coastal recreation opportunities for individuals and families from inland areas, many belonging to low-income communities and communities of color, who have historically been denied the benefits of coastal recreation by some cities, such as Manhattan Beach whose white supremacist officials in the 1920s infamously seized and demolished a thriving Black oceanfront resort business, Bruce’s Lodge, in a racist effort to ban Black beachgoers from the city.

The Manhattan Beach city council tightened its ban on short-term rentals just weeks after the Coastal Commission adopted its Environmental Justice Policy on March 8, 2019. That policy proclaims that “The coast belongs to everyone, and access cannot be denied or diminished on the basis of race, ethnicity, income socio-economic status, or place of residence or other factors listed in the Policy Statement.”