San Francisco is cracking down on tenants and homeowners who use Airbnb to rent out housing, at the same time that a pending investment deal has valued the startup at around $10 billion. The city bans short-term rentals, and is reportedly investigating 85 people who are offering spaces through Airbnb and similar online sites. Airbnb announced last week it would start collecting San Francisco’s 14 percent hotel tax, saying it wants to play by the rules and help generate more revenue for the city.

Nick Papas, spokesman for Airbnb
Edward C. Singer Jr., real estate attorney with the law firm Zacks & Freedman and real estate broker representing a landlord who filed an eviction notice against a tenant for using Airbnb
Joe Tobener, managing partner with the Tobener Law Center and a tenants rights lawyer who represents people facing eviction for Airbnb use
Judson True, legislative aide for San Francisco City Supervisor David Chiu
Scott Sanchez, zoning administrator with the San Francisco Planning Department

  • thucy

    How do you know you’re in yet another tech-fueled financial bubble that is about to burst like an overblown birthday balloon?

    When airBNB, which owns no property, has virtually no obligations to contractors, has never had to negotiate a strike with union employees, assumes virtually no liability, and doesn’t have a single staff member who understands how to handle an influx of conventioneers, is valued several billion more than Sheraton.

    “Something for nothing. It never loses its charm.” -Michael Lewis, “The End”, 2008

  • colinvgallagher

    Isn’t it a waste of resources for San Francisco’s Planning Department to pay its employees to troll websites like AirBNB and VRBO to search for homeowners who might be renting a spare room in their homes, allegedly in violation of a 100 year old ordinance that has no relevance to the present day? Maybe Forum should do a show on whether San Francisco has too many city employees whose contribution to the public good is marginal at best?

    • Guest

      Technically if there are fines involved, it is not a waste of resources.

      • Except that it destroys value.

        • Guest

          It also destroys the value of the neighborhood in which it happens.

          • How? And why should that matter? If you want to live in a completely controlled environment, buy your whole neighborhood. Otherwise, you’re going to have to accept that other people have plans that are different than yours for their property. A little tolerance goes a long way. Or do you also object when poor people with ugly-looking cars park in your neighborhood?

          • Guest

            Because people don’t want random strangers standing in their backyards where their kids play.

            There’s a reason why areas with hotels are not zoned residential…

          • Maybe people should stop worrying unnecessarily. And they definitely should stop forcing the rest of us to adapt due to their irrational worries.

          • Guest

            You’re like a smoker who tells people not to take offense to second hand smoke.

          • Let’s pretend for a moment that there are rational reasons to fear random strangers more than neighbors you barely know when it comes to the safety of your children. You are right.

            Back in the real world, strangers are much less dangerous for your children than your neighbors, friends and family members. Irrational fear is not a valid reason for policymaking. You might as well complain about black people in your building being a danger to your children.

          • Guest

            Your claim that familiar people are more dangerous is wild and unproven.

          • Chris Courtney

            I think he was politely referring to your priest. There is no doubt about that one.

          • Eric Westby

            Your repeated suggestions that objections to AirBNB are equivalent to objections about “poor people with ugly-looking cars” or “black people” (?!) are, to put it mildly, unhelpful.

          • That’s orthogonal to my goal. My point is not to be helpful. (Helpful to whome anyways?) My point is to call out hypocrytical statements, policy making based on irrational fears and bigotted attitudes. Yes, fear of strangers is a bigotted attitude.

          • Eugenia Syro

            Frank, I highly doubt an Airbnb user is standing in anyone’s backyard at any time. No, they are out exploring, and adding to the local economy/

  • Guest

    When is SF going to get tough on hotels that are afflicted with bed bugs month after month, year after year, and which never do anything about it?
    Look up your (least) favorite hotel here:
    Speaking of AirBNB, how long will it be before we hear about a lawsuit because some AirBNB guest brought bed bugs into an apartment and soon enough the entire building was affected?

    • thucy

      “Speaking of AirBNB, how long will it be before we hear about a lawsuit because some AirBNB guest brought bed bugs into an apartment and soon enough the entire building was affected?”

      Already happening from NY to SF. Not the lawsuits, but the bedbug infestations via AirBNB. Then there was the recent AirBNB orgy incident in NY. You can only imagine what other AirBNB fiascos are coming up.

      • Sanfordia113

        can’t prove that.

        • thucy

          I’m sorry, can’t prove what?

          • Sanfordia113

            That is wasn’t the dirty landlord who tracked them in.

  • jamiebronson

    AirBnB is very disingenuous. It’s smart that they used an elderly couple as their poster child but the reality is renters do not own the properties they live in and therefore are not theirs to sublease. END OF STORY. “It’s not incredibly complicated” as their spokesperson says.

    • Guest

      I like how Singer says he has a “philosophical opposition” to rent control. This sounds airy and abstract, like something from a Lexus commercial. I doubt he’ll ever need rent control himself. I hear Let them eat cake

      • Sean

        He said a lot more than that on the topic, you simply chose to hear what you wanted to hear.

  • Sanfordia113

    This has been happening for decades on places like Craigslist, newspapers, word of mouth, etc. It is despicable that some loser politicians and activists are grandstanding to catch headlines against “evil techies” (i.e., AirBnB start-up employees), to the detriment of renters who are barely making ends meet.

    • Guest

      Your use of words like “retard” and “loser” suggests you have the emotional maturity of an 11-year-old.

      • Sometimes, children speak truth.

        • Guest

          So says the child.

  • jamiebronson

    I would add that I have two friends that evicted two tenants that had moved out of their apartments and were renting out their apartments for TWICE what they were paying for their rent controlled apartment. I say bravo to the city for going after these criminals.

  • Sanfordia113

    There should be a protection for tenants to do occasional (i.e., less than 30 days per year) subletting, as long as no individual instance is more than 14 days. In these cases, rent should be capped at like the master tenant’s rent, plus costs and liability coverage and depreciation costs (not to mention occupancy taxes)… regardless of any lease provisions about subletting legality.

    • Guest

      Sounds good… So what’s the cost of removing bedbugs from an entire apartment complex? Also how much does it cost for a person or couple to obtain business insurance, or whatever kind would b needed?

      • Sanfordia113

        Right… lets pass a law that bans people from visiting buildings. That will fix it!

        • thucy

          Sanford, I think we can agree that bedbug infestations don’t occur because people “visit buildings”. They occur when overnight travelers open their luggage in an overnight stay.

          • So let’s ban people from having overnight visitors?

          • thucy

            It’s probably accurate to suggest that there’s a big difference between an overnight visitor, known to the tenant as a friend or as family, and one of a series of AirBNB customers.

          • Yeap. My visiting friends and family probably don’t have insurance that covers them if they show up at my place and cause significant damage. (such as infecting the whole building with bed bugs) AirBnB does.

      • thucy

        What’s the cost after an AirBNB “guest” decides to host an “extra-large orgy” and in the process trashes the unit, as happened to an AirBNB renter this year in Chelsea?

  • Ben Rawner

    Is there a difference between someone renting out the whole apt versus if I let them rent my couch or extra room. If I’m there, is it still considered a sublet?

    • Sanfordia113

      actually, yes, so long as you collect rent… if they bring you a gift, this would be ok.

  • James

    Fact: 50%+ of AirBnB listings in SF are tenant listed. Almost all of those violate the rent control requirement to not ‘profiteer’ on a sub-let. Without an amendment of the rent control law, there is no solution at all. Unfortunately BOS is afraid to touch rent control ordinance because of the intense local politics. So… how is the legislation going to help at all?

  • tom hakov

    Airbnb – we are talking about 0.5% of rental stack – that is nothing. If there is 350,000 rental units in Sf, 165,000 units are rent controller and there are 6000 units on Airbnb. Out of those 6000 over 3000 are rooms or beds…

    • jamiebronson

      That is not nothing. It represents 10% of the the housing shortfall in SF.

      • All of which could be solved by allowing people to build housing and letting property owners work out prices with their tenants rather than getting in the way.

    • tom hakov

      Hi Jamie – It Represents only 0.8% of the market that is less then 1% not 10%.
      Less then 1% of the rental market, but this is not low income housing, it is higher end rentals. Just a fact!

  • Chomsky_P

    AirBnB is a predictable effect of rent control. as are evictions for minor causes so landlords can earn market rents. Eliminate rent control and many problems will disappear. Then, if SF is concerned about affordability, they can focus resources on individuals who actually need help with rent rather than having a blanket restriction on all rents which help the lucky ones who have been living in apartments for many years, only SOME of whom are actually in need of rent subsidies.

  • Diane Tiry

    I am a mother of three young adults.I run my own landscape company . I need to move from the house I grew up in . Bec father wants to cash in on this sellers market . But there are no rentals out there for what I need and the price I can afford . Everything for the size I need is so over priced .plus no one wants pets .
    Where would one go for help with affordable housing ?

  • SF teacher

    My wife and I own our home and have been renting our mother in law studio attached to our house on airbnb for two years. We have met amazing, lovely world travelers and have had nothing but good experiences. We both work in social services/education and could not afford to stay in the Bay Area without this service. I am sure there are a couple of bad apples in the mix, but it is not fair to vilify the whole business.

  • russ

    I own my house. I built a legal apartment unit downstairs. I will NEVER rent it out to a regular monthly tenant due to rent control problems. I would rather let it sit vacant, or have my inlaws or other family/friends stay there occasionally, or use it as a home office. When I heard about airbnb, I decided that could work and have been doing that for a few months. So far so good. I have discussed it with neighbors and they are ok with it. I taken care of a dozen issues including parking, noise, trash, safety, etc. I’m not taking any housing off the market. Just the opposite, I am creating a new opportunity for visitors to our great city, and creating jobs with our local cafes and restaurants. Some of our guests are business travelers, creating new business opportunities and serving local companies that need short term employees.

    • j3nzie

      I would check your homeowners insurance.

      A friend posted a funding campaign to Facebook a few weeks ago where the requester of funds had lost a small cabin on their property in a fire. The fire occurred while it was being renter via Airbnb. Their homeowners insurance would not cover the damage to the property due to the use at the time of the fire.

  • Chuck

    Micro managing the housing uses in this town beyond health & safety
    diverts so much energy in this town that the City cannot address its
    housing supply in a productive manner. Let Landlords manage their
    property without rent control and let Tenants use the property as they
    negotiate and agree. Rent control has resulted diminished rental supply
    of affordable rentals. The only beneficiaries are greedy middle class
    white people who have enjoyed subsidized housing for years TAX FREE.

  • Mike

    Limiting the number of days seems to be reasonable if someone is renting their entire home to prevent it from being taken off the rental market. However if people sharing rooms in their apartment, limiting the number of days makes no sense as someone could rent the room to someone on a full time basis. The solution to just build more hotels just fills more space that could be filled with housing simply exacerbates the problem.

  • Chuck

    If it wasn’t for rent control, SF would have more housing and all tenants would be treated equally rather than favoring the early occupants. Landlords would have to compete.

  • William – SF

    Why not have (make) the renter and landlord SHARE the revenue (and risk)? Win-win?

    • jamiebronson

      Why not just evict the tenant and rent the entire place through AirBnB?

      • thucy

        That’s clearly a trend already.

    • Guest

      Good idea, but landlord greed is an obstacle.

  • Manu Chatterjee

    I’d like to see this conversation separate Goals from Implementations (laws). WAY too much discussion of laws versus what we actually want the laws to be.

    Goal: Make housing affordable.
    Implementation: Rent Control.

    Issue: Does this Implementation move forward for this Goal?

    Now to AirBnB : This is “hotelling” service.
    AirBnB Goal: Allow people to rent out property they control (ie not renters already banned from sublets)
    Contstraints: Be safe, don’t disturb neighbors, pay applicable taxes
    Now… fundamentally, what is the set of laws that we want for FAIRNESS (for the neighborhood AND the unit owner) without introducing a patchwork of band-aid laws?

  • Ben Rawner

    I have used airBNB all over the US and it rocks. Cheaper than hotels better located and has a kitchen to make my travels cheaper. The dangerous travelers is such a rediculous argument. I have always been super respectful and so have my friends who had used it. Hogwash.

  • InabaML

    There is an unrecognized need for affordable, short-term housing for individuals other than tourists. I was unemployable for a period of time due to illness and needed to maintain myself in the Bay Area. In the early 20th century there were YW and YMCAs that provided safe, affordable rooms. Families also ran boarding houses. Currently there is no option between expensive hotel rooms and hostels. I am a professional woman, Ph.D. who ended up on friend’s sofas and in a homeless shelter for a limited period of time. There should be a way to license short-term housing to close this gap. I ended up having to move to Sacramento, away from my family, to find housing.

    • Chuck

      The City should provide assistance for people in need. Rent control only serves the the greedy middle class who got here first.

  • Sean

    Why couldn’t the landlord and tenants get together and decide collectively if this would be appropriate for their building? The landlord could get a cut. The renting tenant could get a cut and the other building tenants could get a cut to collectively reduce their rent.

    • thucy

      Likely because the liability for the landlord is unreasonably high.

    • Another Mike

      That would make sense. Landlords and tenants are free to negotiate the terms of their rental agreements.

      • Hahahahahaha. You haven’t heard of San Francisco, have you?

        • thucy

          I assure you that the landlord-tenant situation is similar in New York. In fact, tenant protections are in some ways stronger in NY.

          • Sure. San Francisco is far from being the only city with that problem.

    • Chuck

      Such mutual agreements on use, rentals etc. would risk violating the rent control laws.

  • Sean

    If the landlord is under legal risk for an Airbnb guest being injured then change THAT ridiculous law, rather than blame Airbnb for putting him in that situation.

    • Another Mike

      Good luck with that. Laws regarding the rights and responsibilities of property owners go back centuries.

  • Quinn

    How is AirBNB different from corporate housing? My apt complex has corporate housing and similar safety issues can also apply.

  • It is deeply hypocritical for administrators and officials of the city of San Francisco to complain about airbnb because it supposedly reduces the city’s housing stock. If they were truly concerned about that issue, they would get out of the way of people trying to build more housing. The dishonesty, while unsurprising is nauseating.

  • Another Mike

    A side note regarding housing availability in SF: apparently former Supervisor Chris Daly owns a condo in SF even though he and his family live in Fairfield.

  • Just Checking

    Is it illegal to be a guest of airbnb host in San Francisco?

    • Another Mike

      You could be seen as a trespasser, I suppose.

  • Phil

    I am a homeowner who lives by UCSF, and have hosted by countless families of patients here for surgery or cancer treatment. These families are incredibly stretched financially and emotionally. Instead of staying in a downtown hotel for just a night or two, these guests are able to live in a home-like environment right next to the hospital, for a longer period of time.

  • huckabubble

    Rent control is but one of many laws Airbnb rentals are violating. Do it in, and they’ll still be illegal under zoning (which prohibits short-term rentals in virtually the entire city) and the apartment conversion ordinace (which can earn you six months in jail).

    You want to rent a spare bedroom or your couch — have at it. But most of the listings on Airbnb and other online travel agency sites are for entire units, and that’s a huge problem in a city with a severe housing shortage.

    Tenants are renting multiple apartments for the sole purpose of offering them on Airbnb. Landlords are renting units on Airbnb, sometimes every unit in a building, sometimes after evicting tenants. I’ve seen a two-unit Pac Heights building for sale with the owner bragging that the lower unit has been (illegally) offered on VRBO, generating $123,000 in the past year alone.

  • art

    There is one thing missing from this discussion of the “so-called sharing economy”: Airbnb is a 10 billion dollar company who is asking hosts to pay its city tax. Why aren’t they “sharing” this tax? They certainly can afford it more than hosts who are earning extra income to make ends meet!

    • dead_dragon

      Even if AirBnB works out some kind of deal with the city of SF, I bet hosts will still have to pay city tax. It’s the same situation where most of us have to pay consumer tax, yet the merchants also have to pay tax for their gain.

  • Roy Henderson

    As a traveler, having used AIRBNB, I have found the lodging accomodations excellent. Far superior to commercial lodging facilities where the physical plant is rundown, inferior housekeeping and inconsistent rates utilized. Having never found sanitation/cleanliness issues with AIRBNB accomodations, I have “repeatedly” found issues in commercial lodging facilities where a “hotel” tax is charged…that includes the best commercial institutions. If the hotel lobby wants to force AIRBNB, and similar accomodations, into collecting tax…I suggest the commercial hotel lobby “check in” to their member lodging accomodations and see why AIRBNB is preferred. Collect the tax, provide the support, security and assurance of a safe, clean lodging accomdation!

  • Adrian Smith

    It seems a very obnoxious thing for SF to do. I have used Airnbnb all over the world and it has been a wonderful experience. So if they pay the hotel tax what’s the problem?

  • Lotion In The Basket

    You cannot stop innovation. I guess it’s a good thing innovation is at least 100 steps ahead of the government.

  • Cheryl

    This was an absolutely biased report. Amazing how the moderator shut down the guy who got himself off food stamps by using Airbnb. This is an awesome service that in some cases helps people stay afloat. The comments about having strangers on premises doesn’t hold any water, when full time renters can have guests over at any time and stay overnight. Landlords should be insured for guests on the property regardless under what kind of circumstances. Strangers on the property are a given. Also not mentioned is that Airbnb has a comprehensive screening process for it’s participants to enhance security for all. There is also a public on-site review process for feedback. Bad reviews hurt your chance of using the service again. I have run an Airbnb and had nothing but positive experiences with some incredible people from around the world.

  • Aaron

    The issue here is that SF has a ban on private short term rentals. This is not a new concept. Are people not familiar with laws like this? I was born in Cannon Beach, Oregon. When I was seven, we moved away. We kept our house that our family had lived in for eleven years. We rented it out to long term, local tennants. Why didn’t we rent it out to short term vacationers for higher profits? Because Cannon Beach had a law banning private short term rentals. As a child I thought this was unfair. As an adult I can understand that it was a regulation put in place so that year round residents who rent would have places to live. Twenty three years later, my parents still rent the house year round to long term tennants; working class people with families. People like my family; electricians, massage therapists, retail workers, carpenters, preschool teachers. Those people would not be living in that house if not for that law.

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