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Emoji House: What's Next?

Aug 12, 2019 03:39AM ● By Jeanne Fratello
It seems improbable on its face: A nondescript duplex in El Porto takes on a flamboyant paint job and becomes the viral news story of the summer.

Yet that's exactly what has happened with the "Emoji House" in Manhattan Beach, which has now been featured in news stories from as far away as Jakarta.

The story, as first reported by the Easy Reader, briefly goes like this: Neighbors reported the owner for illegal short-term rentals (and the owner was subsequently fined by the city.) Apparently angry at the neighbors for reporting the illicit rentals, the owner painted the house hot pink with silly-face emojis. The neighbors say that they feel directly targeted by the "shut up" message of one emoji, and in at least one case, personally mocked by the features of another.

At last week's City Council meeting, neighbors complained about feeling "threatened," "degraded," and that the now-famous attraction had become a "nuisance." 

Looking forward, it raises questions about what, if anything, the city can do about "artistic expressions" on the outside of a residence.

Local real estate blog MB Confidential breaks down some of the arguments here:

"The neighbors have been pushing arguments as to why the ridiculous paint job should not be allowed. They've focused on calling the emojis a "mural," "graffiti" and even a "sign" advertising the "business" of the home as a rental.

"The "sign" argument seems a stretch, but it's true that it could be a magic bullet if the paint job gets viewed as commercial in nature.

"The "mural" label works to a degree, because the city is in the midst of formulating "mural" regulations, with an eye toward encouraging public art. Just ask the city to regulate away murals on houses, or at least those that are intended to spite neighbors. Yeah, well, good luck with that...

"Graffiti" is an interesting attack brought before the city council this week. It's true that Manhattan Beach outlaws "graffiti" and prescribes penalties for those who create it. However, the municipal code defines "graffiti" as "any unauthorized inscription, word, figure, picture or design." We kinda stopped at the word "unauthorized." If the homeowner commissioned the emojis, as she chirpily says she did, how can it be "unauthorized?" Unauthorized by the neighbors? Yikes."

So what's next for the most famous hot-pink house in America?

The city's Planning Commission will meet about the topic on August 28. The city attorney has already warned that their mural regulations need to be "content neutral."

"The truth is, you don't want the government coming into a vague situation and trying to impose order," said real estate broker Dave Fratello, author of MB Confidential. "The city is going to tread very carefully, and basically try to get everyone to mediate a solution before acting."

Stay tuned.

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