San Francisco May Consider Paying Residents To Rat Out Neighbors With Illegal Airbnb Rentals

Most of the headlines about local governments fighting over the legality of short-term apartment rental services like Airbnb and VRBO have focused on New York City, where many of the rentals listed arguably violate subletting regulations. But there are folks in San Francisco who have a problem with these services and are pushing the city to rein them in.

Like NYC, San Francisco is a city with a good deal of tourist traffic and a limited supply of hotel rooms. It also has a decent population of residents and landlords willing to let out rooms and apartments to visitors. This makes it an ideal spot for a service like Airbnb, where users have the flexibility of spending thousands of dollars to rent out luxury homes for their visit, or crashing in someone’s spare bedroom for $50 a night.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, some of the city’s well-connected private citizens are pressuring local lawmakers to regulate this growing short-term housing business, limiting short-term rentals to only those parts of the city with commercial zoning and even going so far as to suggest that residents be rewarded for ratting out people who have turned their apartments into mini-hotels.

Under the proposal, whistleblowers would be rewarded with 30% of any fines or back taxes collected as a result of their alerting the authorities to illegal rentals.

“The short-term rental market is exploding and cries out for some sort of regulation,” one of the idea’s supporters, an area housing advocate, tells the Chronicle. “People are stunned to find out that a house on their block is now a hotel.”

This initiative is still in the process of raising funds to get on the ballot for next fall, and its supporters say the pay-for-tattling idea might not make it through to the final version.

A city supervisor has already proposed a new city law that would legalize short-term rentals throughout the city, but would require all operators of these rentals to register with the city. However, the registry would not readily be available to the public.

This is less strict than the privately backed ballot initiative, which would also require registration and would make that registry a matter of public record, so anyone could look up the buildings in their area to see which are operating short-term rentals.

Airbnb isn’t too thrilled with the idea of being further hemmed in by regulation.

“We want to work with everyone in San Francisco who cares about home-sharing, but this proposal would make it even harder for San Franciscans to make ends meet,” a rep for the company tells the Chronicle. “More than half of Airbnb hosts in San Francisco use the money they earn to pay their mortgage or rent, and the overwhelming majority share only the home in which they live. We hope to work with everyone on policies that help San Franciscans pay the bills and stay in the city they love.”

Rather than being compelled to do so, Airbnb recently announced that it would begin collecting the proper hotel taxes in San Francisco and other cities.

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  1. webalias says:

    I’m really tired of Airbnb’s pathetic argument that it’s somehow OK for homeowners who do business with them to break the law, because most of them “use the money they earn to pay their mortgage or rent.” So what. Some folks who deal cocaine, engage in prostitution, or run cockfighting rings may also use the proceeds to pay their mortgage or rent, and such activities may well help them “pay the bills and stay in the city they love.” Nonetheless, they’re illegal and adversely affect the quality of life in a community — as does turning a private home into an unlicensed hotel in a residential neighborhood.

    • furiousd says:

      Yeah, of course it’s illegal when laws are being contrived to specifically make the thing they’re doing illegal. I’m all for stopping people from violating their leases by subletting against the property owner’s wishes, but as a homeowner if I want to bring in some extra money when a sporting event is in town or if I decide to turn property I own into a rental property that should be my prerogative.