SF's newest grassroots coalition is backed by a company valued at $10 billion

Airbnb launches a movement in response to legislation targeting illegal conversions of apartments into short-term rentals.

It seems people are agitating for change on all sides of a debate swirling around Airbnb, the San Francisco-based apartment-sharing company whose new logo, by the way, is rumored to be something special.

Earlier this week, we reported on a “citizen enforcement action” staged by the San Francisco Tenant Union, in which activists wielding neon green stickers tagged rentals where tenants had been forced out of rent-controlled apartments, to make room for higher-paying Airbnb vacationers.

Turns out, there’s a rolling drumbeat on the other side of the fence, too, resembling a grassroots campaign – yet promulgated by Airbnb itself. Yesterday, Airbnb sent out an email blast proclaiming: “Big News: Launching Fair to Share San Fransisco!” [sic] (#fail).

Misspellings happen, and hey, we all make mistakes. More to the point, what’s Fair to Share want, and when do they want it?

Fair to Share “is working for fair rules for home sharing,” according to the blast, which directs recipients to sign an online petition “urging the Board of Supervisors and San Francisco leaders to enact rules that let people share the home in which they live.”

The blast describes Fair to Share as a coalition, comprised of Airbnb, a company valued at $10 billion; Peers, a nationwide online organizing group whose rise coincided with early signs of regulatory action targeting the sharing economy, and Home Sharers of San Francisco, a group we at the Guardian previously hadn’t heard of.

Perhaps Fair to Share’s motto could be: “Airbnb hosts of the world, unite!”

As the Guardian has previously reported, Board President David Chiu has been working for more than a year to craft legislation regulating short-term rentals, partially in response to the problem that rent-controlled housing stock is quietly being lost to conversions to short-term Airbnb rentals, a practice carried out both by tenants and landlords.

City law technically  prohibits apartment rentals of less than 30 days, a measure geared toward preserving the city’s rental stock. Chiu’s legislation, developed in tandem with the San Francisco Tenants Union, would actually help legitimize Airbnb by legalizing short-term rentals in residential areas – with a number of conditions, including a requirement that hosts register with the city and limit rentals to no more than 90 days per year.

According to a “fact sheet” published by Fair to Share, the average Airbnb host earns $4,000 a year by renting out their space. The website also emphasizes that a great many Airbnb hosts, presumably tenants, use the supplemental cash gleaned from online rentals to “stay in their homes,” the subtext here being that rent is so goddamn expensive in this city that welcoming perfect strangers into your home as overnight guests is a matter of basic economic survival (also, sharing is awesome!).

Airbnb’s focus on cash-strapped hosts might lead people to believe that their economic security is somehow threatened by the proposed legislation. But that isn’t the case. The $4,000-per-year average earning potential would go completely unaffected if hosts were limited to the 90 rental days per year proposed by Chiu’s legislation. So why are people being urged to ban together with Fair to Share and join the revolution pushing back against regulatory control?

A closer read of the petition reveals that Airbnb and the Home Sharers of San Francisco are actually worried about the proposed law’s enforcement mechanisms, including a registry that Airbnb hosts would be required to enroll in. The point of these enforcement provisions in the proposed legislation, which will likely be decided on this fall, are to ensure that the rules on short-term rentals are being followed instead of flouted.

Is it fair to share? Sure. But ousting long-term San Francisco tenants to set up a property as a hotel in violation of city law isn’t a very good example of sharing. And that’s the sort of behavior this new regulation is targeting.