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Another View: Airbnb is irresponsible, out of control

Election signs in a San Francisco Chinatown window support affordable housing and a ballot measure to restrict short-term rentals. Voters rejected Proposition F, which would have limited Airbnb operations.
Election signs in a San Francisco Chinatown window support affordable housing and a ballot measure to restrict short-term rentals. Voters rejected Proposition F, which would have limited Airbnb operations. The Associated Press

It’s unfortunate that The Sacramento Bee’s editorial on Airbnb (“Yes, there is a right way to regulate Airbnb,” Nov. 9) neglected to mention the key provision of Proposition F in San Francisco that prompted Airbnb to spend so many millions toward its defeat.

The provision would have limited Airbnb and similar companies to listing and renting only legal, properly registered residential units.

Airbnb reports that it has 7,900 “hosts” in San Francisco. But fewer than 750 have complied with the requirement to register to offer short-term rentals. These include hosts who have dozens of listings citywide, who list entire apartment buildings that have been converted to short-term rentals and who list rental units where tenants have been evicted. Airbnb lists them all.

The existing ordinance already prohibits using both units subject to Ellis Act evictions in the past five years and those developed as below market-rate affordable housing. Airbnb continues to list them anyway.

Under current law, property owners need not grant permission for tenants to register as short-term rental hosts. Yet when landlords discover their properties listed without permission, Airbnb refuses to delist them or cancel future bookings.

Why does a $25 billion corporation behave so irresponsibly? Because the illegal, unregistered units – particularly those offered by professional hosts with multiple listings – are so much more lucrative than the sharers who rent a spare room from time to time.

Sacramento would be well-advised not only to require hosts to register, but also to limit Airbnb’s listings to registered units.

As for the editorial’s recommendation to limit “the number of nights that hosts can rent rooms without being on the premises,” please let us know how the city should determine when a host is sleeping in her own bed each night. Independent experts here couldn’t, and so recommended eliminating any distinction between hosted and unhosted rentals, as Proposition F did.

By providing meaningful enforcement against Airbnb’s professional hosts and management companies, the measure was a significant threat to Airbnb’s business model, and that’s why Airbnb outspent proponents by a ratio of 20 to 1.

Dale A. Carlson is co-founder of ShareBetter SF, a group of landlords, housing activists, unions and neighborhood groups that filed Proposition F.

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