Cheerful message or revenge? ‘Emoji house’ riles up Southern California neighbors

Short-term rentals spark debate in other cities

Many cities are grappling with how to deal with short-term rentals. In Raleigh, North Carolina, city leaders stopped enforcing a ban on short-term rentals in 2015 until they passed regulations.
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Many cities are grappling with how to deal with short-term rentals. In Raleigh, North Carolina, city leaders stopped enforcing a ban on short-term rentals in 2015 until they passed regulations.

One of the large emojis painted on a Southern California home is smiling broadly — but the homeowner’s neighbors aren’t in the same mood.

Residents of Manhattan Beach’s El Porto neighborhood plan to show up at a City Council meeting Tuesday to air their grievances about the striking paint job on the home, which belongs to Kathryn Kidd, a landlord who lives nearby and rents out the property, the Los Angeles Times reports. Photos show the duplex’s facade was recently painted bright pink and decorated with two emoji faces — one smiling and looking zany with its tongue out, the other with its lips zipped shut. Both have googly eyes and large eyelashes.

The faces’ prominent eyelashes make neighbor Susan Wieland suspect Kidd painted the house in May as revenge against her: Wieland said she had gotten eyelash extensions shortly before the new paint job appeared, according to Easy Reader News, which first reported the story.

“I feel like I’ve been directly attacked with my eyelash extensions,” Wieland said of the emoji, according to the outlet. “It’s definitely directed. I had them done here in Manhattan Beach, and they did them way too big. Now it’s painted on the house.”

Bullied for what reason? Wieland and other neighbors reported Kidd to the city for hosting short-term renters of the Airbnb variety at the home — a practice that is illegal in Manhattan Beach and landed Kidd with a $4,000 fine after a city inspection, Easy Reader News reported.

“We still have the shades shut,” Wieland said, according to the outlet. “Every day I get up, I’m so depressed. I can’t look outside. I feel like I’m being bullied, frankly, by her. That word keeps coming up to me: she’s a bully, and she feels she is entitled.”

Neighbors also think the zipped lips emoji is intended to send a message.

I think it’s not even ambiguous actually,” neighbor Dina Doll said, according to CBSLA. “Zip the lip … we all know what that means. I think it violates every sense of common decency … ”

Kidd denies that the paint job is aimed at doing anything but making people happy.

“It’s a message to me to be positive and happy and love life,” Kidd said, according to CBSLA. “I have eyelash extensions. The eyes are like a Mona Lisa eye. They kind of follow you.”

Kidd denied the eyelashes were intended to evoke her neighbor, saying that “I’ve never been that close to her, nor do I want to be” and that “she’s probably paranoid,” according to Easy Reader News. Kidd did admit she had been fined over breaking the city’s short-term rental policy, but said she didn’t know it was illegal at the time, according to the publication.

Neighbors said evidence that the emoji are in fact revenge can be found in a now-edited Instagram post, which, according to CBS, read: “Are your neighbors constantly ratting you out? Have they cost you thousands in fines? Have you wanted to tell them off lately? Why risk a case, when you can hire me to paint them a pretty message?”

Doll said the emoji murals have created a nuisance in the area, attracting curious people who want to snap photos, according to the Los Angeles Times. Doll also said a city official told her nothing could be done about the house paint because Kidd was expressing her First Amendment rights.

“To me, there are just so many ways the city could step in if they want to,” Doll said, according to the newspaper. “At this point, there is no neutral for the city. Not taking action is condoning this. And do we really as a community want to condone this?”

But not everyone in the neighborhood hates the hot pink paint and smiley faces: During a recent live-shot on “Good Day LA,” a man happened to come out of the emoji home and walked over to speak with a reporter.

“I love the apartment,” he told her during the surprise exchange.

Kidd says she has no intention of changing the paint job, CBSLA reports.

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Jared Gilmour is a McClatchy national reporter based in San Francisco. He covers everything from health and science to politics and crime. He studied journalism at Northwestern University and grew up in North Dakota.