Brian Chesky’s business, Airbnb, is the focus of renewed attempts to regulate the short-term rental market in S.F.
On Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors will for the second time this summer consider amendments to the Airbnb law regulating short-term rentals to fix the mess former Supervisor David Chiu’s industry-sponsored bill created last year.
Unfortunately, the competing amendments and upcoming ballot measure present the public with options that are either unnecessarily restrictive or, like the original law, rely too heavily on complaint-based enforcement. This would mean either the avoidable loss of increased tax dollars and income for residents or accepting the conversion of some rental housing to illegal hotels.
The Board of Supervisors has an opportunity to find a compromise to show that a city can fully embrace home sharing and also restrict landlords from operating illegal hotels.
A workable compromise would limit illegal hotels by including more enforcement mechanisms such as regular data reporting to the city, the right for neighbors to sue the operators of illegal hotels or even the ability for the city to fine websites profiting from illegal listings.
But, this compromise should also make it easy to legally use Airbnb and similar sites.
Airbnb and its competitors are neither single-handedly destroying San Francisco’s neighborhoods nor are they the magic bullet for residents struggling to survive in this increasingly unaffordable city. Short-term rentals are a business. And like any other business, home sharing should be subject to reasonable regulations that encourage its legitimate use while limiting the most harmful effects.
Six months of reports and analyses from government agencies, the media, Airbnb and an academic study provide the data that the Board of Supervisors needs to support an ordinance that facilitates legal short-term renting while giving government agencies tools for proactively regulating away the bad actors. Right now, we have neither.
First, the bad. There are approximately 500 to 1,000 landlords running full-time hotels through Airbnb — infuriating neighbors, reducing the supply of available rental units and violating city law. These Airbnb hotels are found primarily in trendy neighborhoods already battered by a perfect storm of gentrification, global capital flowing into local real estate and rising income inequality.
The conversion of even this small number of housing units to hotels matters because the loss is so concentrated. In the Mission, for instance, the most recent census estimates only around 800 apartments available for rent while my research found approximately 100 illegal Airbnb hotels.
Now, the good: the vast majority of hosts make San Francisco a better place through Airbnb — they infrequently rent space that would have been empty otherwise, they care about the impact on their neighbors and they bring in new tax dollars and tourist spending to the city.
My research, corroborated by Airbnb and the city’s analyses, suggests that a moderately higher cap on home-share rentals of 120 days a year won’t incentivize more conversions of rental housing to Airbnb hotels — if we can enforce the law.
In the last five years, developers have only built 10,000 new housing units while the city has welcomed five times as many new residents. The Board of Supervisors needs to find a reasonable compromise on home sharing so that we can get back to confronting San Francisco’s larger housing challenge.
Alex Marqusee is a recent graduate of the Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley. His master’s thesis was on the impact of Airbnb on San Francisco’s housing market. This article was originally posted on the San Francisco Chronicle.