“Advocates Want More Limits on Airbnb Rentals Added to Chiu Plan”
A broad coalition of housing activists, landlords, tenants, neighborhood groups and organized labor appeared Friday on the steps of San Francisco City Hall, urging stricter rules for pending legislation to legalize vacation rentals in private homes. The legislation, proposed by Supervisor David Chiu and sometimes informally called the Airbnb law because of that website’s popularity, is due to be heard by the full Board of Supervisorson Tuesday.
The proposal “is not ready for prime time,” said Sara Shortt of the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, who moderated the press conference of about a dozen “strange bedfellows” of groups — like tenants and landlords — not usually noted for cooperating. “If it goes forward, we will be giving away thousands of housing units.”
Activists charge that some building owners divert units to be more-lucrative vacation rentals all year long, and that the proposal won’t rein in that practice.
Chiu’s legislation, which was two years in the making and has been through hearings at the Planning Commission and Supervisors’ Land Use Committee, calls for all hosts to register with the city and restricts vacation rentals to permanent city residents who can rent out only one residence, among other provisions. Amendments added during the process would notify landlords when tenants apply to the registry, require hosts to carry $500,000 in liability insurance, allow the city to go after platforms like Airbnb and VRBO for violations, and require hosts to report how often they rent to tourists.
The coalition seeks several additions to the legislation, including a “private right of action” to allow neighbors, nonprofits or others to quickly sue violators, and a 90-day annual limit on all vacation rentals. Right now, the legislation imposes that cap on rentals of entire units, but allows “hosted rentals,” where the regular occupant is present, to be offered 365 days a year. Opponents say there’s no way the city can distinguish between hosted and non-hosted rentals.
“The legislation is unenforceable; it allows you to run a hotel in your house year-round,” said Fernando Marti of the Council of Community Housing Organizations. “The 90-day limit has to apply everywhere.”
Airbnb hosts, some of whom attended the press conference, said they dislike both proposed changes.
'It pays our mortgage’
Ivan Abeshaus rents a room via Airbnb year-round in his and his wife’s Mission district tenancy-in-common flat for $120 a night and up. “It pays our mortgage,” he said. “Without Airbnb, we couldn’t afford to live in San Francisco.” His wife is a teacher and Abeshaus works full time managing their Airbnb rental as well as doing freelance publishing.
Rodolfo and Karen Cancino rent a room in their Western Addition home to Airbnb visitors and said the money has proven invaluable for expenses like dental work and their son’s education. They said the private right of action is a concern. “It would let a neighbor sue you out of the blue,” he said.
Airbnb had similar objections. “We’re concerned about legislative provisions that would put an arbitrary cap on sharing and encourage neighbors to file lawsuits against their neighbors,” it said in a statement. “We need clear, fair and progressive rules that let regular people share their homes, not rules that encourage neighbors to take each other court.”
Opponents to the law, such as Ted Gullicksen of the San Francisco Tenants Union, said the current pathway for suing violators is cumbersome. The San Francisco Tenants Union wants to sue two dozens landlords who’ve converted entire buildings to vacation rentals, but first must obtain notices of violation from the Department of Building Inspection. It applied for those notices for the initial six landlords in April and presented evidence at a June hearing — and is still waiting for a decision. “We are hamstrung by the administrative bureaucracy,” its attorney Joseph Tobener, wrote in a letter to the Supervisors. DBI said a decision would be issued next week and the delay was due to an unexpected medical situation for the hearing officer involved.
Back taxes an issue
Back taxes are another area the coalition wants addressed. Airbnb has said it will start collecting and remitting San Francisco’s 14 percent hotel tax this month. A Chronicle analysis shows that would bring in at least $11 million a year. However, the company, which has been in business for six years, has not said if it will pay back taxes.
“We should hold that $10 billion corporation accountable for $27 to $28 million” in back taxes, said Mike Casey, head of Unite Here Local 2, the hotel workers union. “A share economy means sharing the wealth.”
Chui said he feels the legislation incorporates a variety of concerns.
“Over the past two years, we’ve worked with all stakeholders to find a comprehensive solution to the challenge of unregulated short-term rentals,” he said in an interview. “The legislation coming to the Board on Tuesday represents a balanced approach that shuts down full-time conversions of residential housing to hotels while providing some flexibility for residents in their permanent homes to pay the rent and make the mortgage while they’re traveling.”
Still in the wings is the possibility of a ballot initiative that would more severely restrict vacation rentals. Proponents had gathered 18,000 signatures, more than enough to qualify, but decided to wait to see the outcome of Chiu’s proposal. They have until Nov. 23 to decide if they want to submit the initiative for the November 2015 election.
“We’re waiting to see if this is a rezoning of the entire city, all 375,000 housing units, into hotels and hotel rooms,” said Doug Engmann, a former Planning Commission president who backed the ballot initiative. He said the larger coalition would be able to marshal the substantial financial resources needed to pursue a ballot initiative.