Into thin air - Page 3

"Shareable housing" is causing apartments to vanish from SF's rental market — yet popular, profitable sites like Airbnb violate local laws

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"Airbnb has just been balking and wanting more and more," Gullicksen told us. "This process has been frustrating, but Chiu has hung in there."

Gullicksen said the goal has been to limit short-term hosting to fewer than 90 days in a 12-month period, with only permanent city residents allowed to host, but Airbnb wants people to be able to rent out their apartments for eight months. And Gullicksen said he wants to see tenant laws and the rental stock protected from conversion to vacation rentals.

"We're most concerned about the impact on the housing stock and evictions, because there's so many of these...We have entire buildings that have been on the tourist market for years," Gullicksen said. "It added a huge new way to remove units from the rental market."

Gullicksen said that conversions of apartments became an even bigger problem than conversions to condos when the financial crisis hit in 2008, and that could become an even bigger problem now that the condo conversion lottery has been suspended for 10 years under legislation approved earlier this year ("Supervisors approve condo legislation," Politics blog, 6/11/13).

In fact, he said that there has been a rash of unusual Ellis Act evictions in recent months, with buildings that have six or more units being cleared of tenants even though they are ineligible for condo conversions, raising suspicions that they're being used for vacation rentals.

Hotel Council Executive Director Kevin Carroll told us Airbnb and similar companies should be paying the TOT, as the city ruled, and he doesn't understand how they've gotten away with it for so long.

"A visitor to San Francisco, whether they are staying with Airbnb or a hotel, they're using city services," he told the Guardian, dismissing the arguments that shareable housing companies should be treated differently. "They do compete with hotels."

Janan New, executive director of the San Francisco Apartment Association, expressed frustration that city officials have let this situation drag on as long as it has.

"I don't know why [Tax Collector Jose] Cisneros isn't collecting the tax. I don't understand it," New told us. "They certainly have the money."

Cisneros told us that his office has the power to audit companies, "and we can bring taxpayers into courts of law," but because of taxpayer privacy laws, he can't discuss what's happening with Airbnb.

"I cannot confirm or deny or discuss what is or isn't being done," Cisneros said, even refusing to offer an off-the-record assurance that something is being done to back up his ruling last year and address the perception that companies are free to flout his authority with impunity.

Attorney James Parrinello, representing SFAA and Coalition for Better Housing, sent a letter to top city officials on Jan. 14 "to discuss the fast-growing practice of illegal short-term/transient rentals for profit and request the City take immediate action to address the problem."

New said they never got a response, although she tells us, "We did have a candid dialogue with [Chiu] six months ago."

"All of these tenants in San Francisco are using their units as pieds-a-terre for out-of-town tourists and they're doing it in ways that jeopardize their rent control status and the safety of their neighbors," New said.

She told stories of visitors being loud, disrespectful, even committing an assault. She said one tenant placed a lockbox on his door to facilitate a rotating series of guests, while another rented out a second apartment in his building exclusively for Airbnb guests.