A radical proposal: Squat Airbnb hosts' homes to create affordable housing

Airbnb offers lots of neighborhoods and amenities for San Francisco's homeless to choose from.

When I interviewed attorney Joseph Tobener for the story in our current issue on Airbnb being used to take affordable housing units off of the apartment market, he had a interestingly radical idea for get the attention of this scofflaw company and its political supporters, striking a blow for housing justice in the process.

What if hundreds of people, including many who are now homeless, rented out apartments in San Francisco for a night or two and then simply refused to leave?

Under tenant laws in San Francisco, renters have rights from the very beginning, and legally getting rid of someone who paid for just one night through Airbnb could require a long, difficult, and costly eviction process. Hundreds at once would overwhelm the courts and the deputies who carry out evictions for the Sheriff’s Department.

“That tenancy on day one law to me as a radical seems like a great way to address homelessness,” said Tobener, who got a call for advice from a doctor who sometimes hosts guests through Airbnb and faced that precise problem.

He isn’t the only one, as we at the Guardian learned and reported last summer, when San Francisco Rent Board spokesperson Robert Collins confirmed Tobener’s interpretation of the law and said the agency has already seen several such cases.

As I wrote in “Into Thin Air” on Aug. 6, “Tenants who rent out their apartments for a few days can even lose their rights to reclaim their homes. Collins cited multiple cases where subletters refused to leave and returning tenants had little legal recourse because ‘they would not have a just cause to evict the subtenant because, if they've rented the entire unit, they aren't themselves a resident in the unit.’”

Even in cases where landlords rent out units they own, San Francisco’s 1979 rent control ordinance gives tenants rights to due process from the very beginning, making it difficult to get rid of Airbnb guests who decide to become squatters.

Sure, such a radical response to Airbnb’s impacts on the city may be breaking a few rules and hurting the credit records of those involved — but is that really any worse than the whole host of laws that Airbnb and its customers are violating in San Francisco everyday? It’s at least interesting food for thought. 

UPDATE 2/11: Just to clarify, Tobener isn't actually advocating or organizing a campaign to squat in Airbnb apartments. This idea was, as I wrote, "food for thought," something to ponder, a little thought experiment as we try to address Airbnb's illegal business model and the city's affordable housing crisis. 


Bring the weight of the state down on these trespassers like a ton of bricks.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 19, 2014 @ 6:57 pm

if squatting tenants are ever brought to trial. I'd vote not guilty every time. Fuck whatever the judge instructs me to do. Not guilty, and nothing they can do about it. I don't know if everyone will agree with me, but it doesn't matter. It only takes one in 12 on every jury for a mistrial, which is as good as not guilty, and there are a lot more like-minded people in SF just like me. People are fed up with greedy landlords.

Posted by Greg on Feb. 19, 2014 @ 11:08 pm

Of course, this explains why Greg would never be selected for a jury, and thank God.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 20, 2014 @ 7:20 am

the judge and state under oath that he can be unbiased and will follow the judge's direction. If he doesn't lie, he will not be selected for the jury.

Then, once selected, he will ignore all the evidence, and the law, and the judge, and his sworn statements, and rule purely ideologically

And then there would be his trial for perjury and contempt of court. And I am voting him guilty regardless.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 20, 2014 @ 7:47 am

The most that would likely ever happen to me is that I'd be kicked off the jury. But even that would never happen. I wouldn't be so stupid as to tell them why I'm voting the way I'm voting.

Again, that's *if* I actually wanted to be on one.

Posted by Greg on Feb. 20, 2014 @ 8:00 am

passionate feeling of conviction and ideology?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 20, 2014 @ 8:18 am

A couple of days ago, at the corner of Sansome and California, there was a car wreck. Turns out that an Uber Lincoln SUV collided with a Federal Protective Services SUV. As I was walking back to the office with lunch, I overheard one cop say to another, "I just wanted to get my story straight so as to not contradict him." Delightful.

Posted by marcos on Feb. 20, 2014 @ 9:34 am

There is no way you would know that a vehicle is a federal protective vehicle because that itself is classified and would not be revealed, and certainly not to a passer-by.

And by your own admission, the snippet of conversation you heard was heard out of the full context.

But if we all lie in court, as Greg is apparently advocating, then justice is being subverted on a ideological whim.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 20, 2014 @ 9:47 am

Jury compensation is a joke, and I don't feel like doing free labor for the system. Unfortunately for you, there are enough poor and unemployed people in San Francisco with more time on their hands, who think just like me. That's why conviction rates in this city are appropriately low.

Posted by Greg on Feb. 20, 2014 @ 7:50 am
Posted by Guest on Feb. 20, 2014 @ 8:14 am

If my views on the system weren't shared by a significant proportion of San Franciscans, then conviction rates wouldn't persistently hover in the 30s. And I think that's about right. Maybe a little bit high by my estimation, but pretty balanced. It suggests that San Franciscans take the same approach I would generally take -listen to both sides. Sometimes the DA is right, sometimes the defense is right. Probably the latter most of the time; this country imprisons far more per capita than ANY other, so most of the people being ground up in the court system really don't belong in jail. But for some crimes, I have a feeling you just get a lot of not guilty verdicts because people don't think they should be crimes.

Posted by Greg on Feb. 20, 2014 @ 8:34 am

because of your oft-stated bias against LE.

The fact that you would lie to a judge in order to try and get someone off a criminal charge they are guilty of just further proves that.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 20, 2014 @ 8:50 am

I don't have a bias against LE. I just have a realistic view. Stating it more often doesn't make it so. In any case, apparently my views are broadly shared by San Franciscans. Hence the low conviction rates. But that's not a sign of bias; it's a sign that San Franciscans are fair -the opposite of bias.

Posted by Greg on Feb. 20, 2014 @ 9:18 am

in order to deceptively get on a jury where your real aim is to subvert the trial process.

That is all we need to know about you.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 20, 2014 @ 9:32 am


It's obvious to reasonably observant people that the entire economic and police state systems are heavily stacked against the bottom 2/3 of society. The poorer and more marginalized the family, the higher the rate of system tyranny.

While growing up I noticed the local police swarmed all over the poorer neighborhoods 24/7, writing up bullcrap tickets and often finding a few other items to screw over the kids and young adults. Once they were entangled in the legal system a few times, their entire life outcomes became even more grim. Meanwhile, over in the rich part of town where the kids were doing far more drugs, having far more under-aged sex and being much more successful at petty thefts and local mischief, the police were nowhere to be found. Except, of course, some of the LE kids hanging out with the rich kids doing just as much dope, having just as much illegal under-age sex and engaging in the same mischief.

Since the systems are heavily tilted against lower income and marginalized families, whenever there's a chance to subvert the government systems that are based on unethical precepts like predatory landlord-tenant laws, or employer-employee relationships or petty crimes, it makes sense to always err on the side of the least powerful.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 20, 2014 @ 10:45 am

that is where most of the crime is.

Your job on a jury is to be open and impartial. If you know you are biased, then you should tell the judge that. Trials are well-defined processes and not exercizes in personal ideology.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 20, 2014 @ 10:55 am

"entire economic and police state systems"

I.e. the government that progressives voted in to San Francisco. What a joke.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 21, 2014 @ 7:54 am

Greedy landlords, a.k.a. a progressive government that has destroyed the affordable housing market through restrictions and regulations.

No prosecutor would ever let you on a jury in the first place.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 21, 2014 @ 7:52 am

like this are huge. and of course there are the safety risks as well.

In practice, nobody is going to risk arrest, a civil award, violence and disgrace. So it's a non issue

Posted by Guest on Feb. 20, 2014 @ 7:21 am

Why don't landlords just target tenants who are renting out their apartments through Airbnb? If you have a problem tenant who is using an apartment you own to make money through short term Airbnb or craigslist rentals, just turn Steven's suggestion on it's head. Have someone you trust lease the place from your tenant for a few nights and then that person can refuse to leave so that the original tenant is locked out. Being suddenly homeless could make it difficult for the problem tenant to pay the rent that month and, after three days of non-payment, the landlord can legally evict him. Once the original tenant has been sent packing, the squatter (who is collaborating with the landlord, mind you) leaves and the landlord is free to rent out his unit at market rate to a google employee. The evicted tenant would be forced to hire a lawyer and wait for his case to make it's way through the courts (which will be clogged by all the civil disobedience cases), and it's doubtful that they would be successful in any case.

Just an idea :)

Posted by Snoozers on Feb. 19, 2014 @ 8:14 pm

mine. It was a roommate thing rather than a short-term thing. But the result was highly effective. I got a vacancy and that oh-so-precious turnover.

I like your thinking.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 20, 2014 @ 7:19 am


Imagine if a landlord organization set up a sting operation where they identified rent-controlled tenants who were renting out their places on Airbnb in violation of their leases and the rent-control laws, used ringers to rent those places out short-term, and then used that as a justification for eviction.

Imagine how Steven, Greg, and Marcos would scream if someone went after tenants profiting off of Airbnb, instead of evil landlords!

Imagine the rationalizations that they would come up with to justify the tenant's behavior!

Posted by Guest on Feb. 20, 2014 @ 9:20 am
Posted by Guest on Feb. 20, 2014 @ 9:34 am

Hello colleagues, good article and good arguments commented here, I am in fact
enjoying by these.

Posted by epoxy flooring on Jun. 13, 2014 @ 3:50 am

As a former landlord I can say most of you are amatures.
What eviction hearing? Is a tenant who sublet their unit on AirBnB going to spend $30K on a landlord lawyer to evict you?
You inform the scumbag tenant/landlord that, after talking with other tenants you believe they have violated the rent ordinance by changing you more in rent (per day) than they pay.
You tell them you are not leaving.
You call the police immediately if the tenant/landlord tries to intimidate you OR change the locks (illegal lockout).
You go to the SF rent board and tell them you are a subtenant and the master tenant is...
You pack up the former tenants belonging and arrange a time for them to collect them.
After the first of the month the tenant/landlord has either paid the rent or given up.
You inform the REAL landlord "I'M THE TENANT NOW!"
The REAL landlord will serve you notice of a rent increase this takes 30 days. You stay and don't pay rent.
The real landlord has to evict you - this will take at least 90 days,
but since the real landlord is a business person you tell them you will leave for say $10,000 cash.
Booking on AirBnB? you use a fake name, address and disposable cell phone number (use the area code of the fake address). As for the credit card - your grandma, friend etc. in SF is paying for your stay.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 26, 2014 @ 9:53 pm

Specifically single family homes, condos and post-1979 construction. So your strategy would fail spectacularly in those cases. It would be simple trespass.

Where the unit is rent-controlled, chances are the AirBnB host is a tenant. So you want tenants to wage war against tenants?

You would have to do a lot of research to ensure that the target is legitimate. And even then it isn't clear a judge would take your side, because the activist/guest clearly does not have clean hands.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 10, 2014 @ 6:13 pm

Thousands of housing activists worldwide wouldn't care less about a bad credit mark or spending a few dollars in legal fees fighting the long eviction process. Even if they had to pay a few thousand dollars in legal fees for living in SF for 6 weeks or more while the eviction battle raged on, that's not a bad price for vacation lodging in a great city.

After squatting for a few weeks, there's an excellent chance the landlord would forego any rent due or collection fees just to get the tenant to agree to move out. For any foreign Airbnb renters, good luck collecting any extra fees owed after they cancel their credit card and fly back home a few days before the Sheriff's Eviction Squad shows up to knock down the door. Or good luck collecting from a judgement-proof squatter who uses a pre-paid credit card to pay for the Airbnb unit, but it has a near zero balance when the squat begins.

It's a phenomenal idea for extra-committed activists. Please advise us when there's a support fund set-up to give money to activists willing to do "performance squats" in Airbnb units. I'm in for at least $100.

If we can fund enough performance squats, maybe eventually one of the regular Airbnb gloaters who post here will get stuck with one. In the end, it will end up costing the gloater a few months of rent costs and require them to pay tens of thousands to the squatter for damages because the landlord did something stupid trying to exercise "their rights" to get back the unit. The Airbnb story keeps getting better and better.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 10, 2014 @ 6:26 pm

their rent, then it would be impossible for the landlords to do anything about it, because the courts would be swamped, and so everyone would get away with it.

If we all stopped paying our credit card bills, the banks could do nothing.

For that matter, if everyone mugged everyone they saw in the street, then the cops and DA could never do anything about it.

What you're really advocating for is a totally lawless society just because in your twisted mind, you are good and right and everyone else is bad and wrong..

Posted by Guest on Feb. 10, 2014 @ 6:32 pm

It's called a rent strike, and that's also not a bad idea if the landlords and realtors don't let up on their exploitation of this city and its people. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rent_strike

Posted by steven on Feb. 10, 2014 @ 6:51 pm

"lifer loser" tenant, a rent strike would be nirvana. Three days and you have a vacancy.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 10, 2014 @ 7:36 pm

So, you are going to find thousands of "housing activists" who have no jobs, families, or other responsibilities to attend to so they can commit to an open-ended occupation of a subletters unit, who also happen to have good credit to pass a credit check, who also happen to have a good story and references that would not arouse suscpicion of prospective subletters, who are also willing to risk getting into legal trouble and who would be willing to get a judgment against them, who also are "collection proof" but yet would still have enough funds to pay for food, utilities, and so forth for an indefinite period and then finally a flight home?

Do you realize how silly all the above sounds?

Rather than engaging in political Kabuki theater or indulging in far-fetched activist fantasies it seems the better course of action would be to engage in a strong lobby of the General Assembly and/or the Board of Supervisors to tighten up the law with respect to regulating temporary rental services like Airbnb.

Also, there is the point that if someone is simply temporary renting out their own single-family home for a week or so while they happen to be away (as opposed to a tenant frequently renting out an apartment that they should be living in), then they aren't taking any rental units off the market or contributing to any increase in rents and they are truly doing nothing wrong. If they need to pay taxes, yes, they should comply with any legal obligation to pay them, but that aside, it is not an issue for someone to occasionally temporarily let out their own primary residence.

Posted by Chris on Feb. 10, 2014 @ 10:23 pm

the Host's home for all these weeks, because he would find that he will not be able to get back in.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 11, 2014 @ 5:48 am

the vociferous response. Property is theft. Let's steal it back, if only temporarily. And we promise to pay the TOT for the first night.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 10, 2014 @ 7:05 pm

having the temerity to offer you housing?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 10, 2014 @ 7:37 pm

if they thought they could get away with it. I've already seen numerous calls for internment camps for landowners and, when that kind of talk starts, suggestions for mass executions usually aren't far behind.

The ultimate result of this squatting idea will be harmful to Progressives. As it's been established, many of these Airbnb hosts are tenants, not owners. When a tenant gets burned by an Airbnb "guest", they will be far less willing to back the type of laws which enabled the "guest" to rip them off in the first place. But that backlash would only quicken the inevitable because, even if some of the recently suggested draconian measures against landlords were to actually become law, they will eventually be struck down by the courts.

Having said that, I do think that letting out your apartment through Airbnb needs to be regulated and possibly taxed. Just my opinion.

Posted by Pol Potty-Mouth on Feb. 10, 2014 @ 8:32 pm

Just as an FYI, homeowner "landowners" are cool, but private landlord "landlowners" are not since their main job is to take as much wealth from tenants as legally possible and impose all sorts of rules and regulations on their living spaces. Definitely not cool.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 10, 2014 @ 9:44 pm

Yeah!!! How dare people who actually OWN the property dare to put rules and regulations on how that property is treated and used by people who are borrowing it from them! Telling someone that they can't smoke inside, illegally sublet to someone else, make their own renovations, etc. is totally not cool.

Next time I rent a car from Budget, I'm gonna take that sucker off-road. Who the hell are they to tell me that I can't drive their car through a forest? I paid good money to rent that car so I can do what I want.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 10, 2014 @ 10:29 pm

It's true some of the largest landlord families hit a bit of a bad patch in France late 18th century. But most modern day radicals probably think the French reacted rather harshly when it might have been just as easy to exile them. It's also true that some of the Chinese landlords in the early 20th century had a bad outcome after centuries of impoverishing the 99.9% of the population. Again, some long-term work camps or exile might have have been a more humane response.

The question we need to ask ourselves is why, if private landlording is such a despicable human practice - not much different from human slavery itself - that governments around the world continue to reward the landlord class with so many economic benefits?

Frustration with the growing inequality between the bottom 80% of society compared to the wealthy - especially wealthy landlords, bankers and land speculators - is becoming more acute every year. Until private landlording is either outlawed or so seriously regulated that only non-profits will take over the function, and until large banks are brought under much tighter control, and until land speculators are taxed out of existence (cities can develop property just as easily as private speculators and they have much more accountability to the community), the larger society will never be able to move forward. Increases to workers' incomes are eventually absorbed by the landlord, banking or government sectors, leaving little for the workers who actually create the new wealth for the community. Who wants to live in that kind of society?

Most of us would be satisfied to pay the existing private landlords whatever cash they've put into the property and pay off any outstanding bank loans, and then give the property back to the people or to non-profits to manage. The landlords will be free to use their cash proceeds to provide capital to create new wealth, either building more housing for the community's or creating other new goods and services that are wanted by the community. Or they can stick it under the mattress if they prefer.

It's the hoarding of private wealth that's the main problem causing massive inequality, not the creation of new wealth by businesses creating new products. The landlord class will have to learn to be productive again, instead of living large off the backs of their tenant slaves.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 10, 2014 @ 9:23 pm

Not making enough money to purchase your own home or not being able to live in a place that you cannot afford is definitely the same as being forced to work for no money, being treated as property, and subject to arbitrary violence and death are completely the same thing. Riiiiggghhhttttt.......

Posted by Guest on Feb. 10, 2014 @ 10:35 pm

"cities can develop property just as easily as private speculators and they have much more accountability to the community"

Not always. The residents of Midtown Park Apartments seem pretty concerned about the rent increases which the government has proposed. The City isn't constrained by rent control laws.

"Most of us would be satisfied to pay the existing private landlords whatever cash they've put into the property and pay off any outstanding bank loans, and then give the property back to the people or to non-profits to manage."

I'm not sure San Francisco has that much money to spend. Another thing to remember is, much of San Francisco's budget comes from property taxes. Removing the revenue would deal a debilitating blow to the nonprofits and other city services.

Posted by Pol Potty-Mouth on Feb. 10, 2014 @ 10:51 pm

The City does have property that it has built, maintains and runs. The SFHA is probably the most dysfunctional and criminally corrupt institution in the entire city.

I guess your idea of a Worker's Paradise is a world where we all live in the exact same drab concrete block apartment, with crumbling walls, peeling paint and clogged up toilets. I am going to take a pass, thanks.

Posted by GlenParkDaddy on Feb. 13, 2014 @ 7:06 pm

no one forces anyone to rent.....

Posted by Guest on Feb. 18, 2014 @ 1:33 pm

This is a circle-jerk of premature ejaculations. Keep your hands in your pants and entertain your litigious perversions until you are in the heat of the moment. Never show your hand, especially after blowing your metaphoric load. No one cares. Ever hear the term, "Where there's a will, there's a way"? We can all circumvent the check mate strategies of one another. "This shit is chess! It ain't checkers!"
Stop spoiling the game. Now, back to your TV Dinners...

Posted by Guest on Feb. 10, 2014 @ 10:08 pm

Absolutely. Lets get together and make a mockery of an important law protecting tenants.

The law goes out of its way to say that significant tenant rights don't kick in for 30 days. Lets get a bunch of people to each risk about $5,000 a month in an obviously coordinated, pre meditated effort to exploit the law in a manner that is clearly counter to its intent.

Sounds like a plan!

The genius of Steven T. Jones is just a remarkable phenomenon. It is so rare to encounter someone who thinks at his level.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 10, 2014 @ 10:31 pm

If someone tries to squat, follow these easy steps:

1) Get a judgement against them

2) Sell the judgement to a collection agency (say, for five cents on the dollar)

3) Hilarity ensues!

This ensures that the squatter can only do this once, since you have to pass a credit check to rent under airbnb, and this ensures that the scofflaw will never be able to pass a credit check again.

Good going, Steven!

Posted by Guest on Feb. 10, 2014 @ 11:24 pm

of people who are willing to:

1) Pay $150 for a night's BnB
2) Take on thousands of dollars worth of debt
3) Sit in someone else's home for weeks doing nothing and going nowhere
4) Risk getting arrested for trespass
5) Risk getting shot, stabbed, beaten or mauled by a dog
6) Have their credit ruined
7) Feel like a real shit for lying and being dishonest

That shouldn't be too hard, right?

And all because renting out your home for the odd night is such a sin?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 11, 2014 @ 5:53 am

Real radicals don't care if their credit is ruined or not!

Posted by Guest on Feb. 11, 2014 @ 7:30 am
Posted by Guest on Feb. 11, 2014 @ 11:03 am

I can imagine what would happen if this ever happened and all the above things happened to them. As the squatter is being led away in handcuffs, in an ambulance, or going through cabin fever, or never being able to get a loan, their thought processes would go something along the lines of: "Oh crap. I'm really screwed now. It all seemed like such a good idea in my head. Mega-squat by a bunch of activists (unfortunately it was just me and two other guys) to show the world how evil AirBnB's is. Now I'm on my way to jail/hospital/poor house. What could possibly go wrong??? And where the hell were Steven and the rest of the activists who came up with this stroke of genius???"

Posted by Guest on Feb. 11, 2014 @ 1:38 pm

He wants others to take all the risks while he sits safe in his office writing.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 11, 2014 @ 1:50 pm

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