What’s Next After the Defeat of Proposition F in San Franciso

Editor’s Note

Now that airbnb has dodged the bullet of Proposition F, the question is whether airbnb will take any meaningful action to police itself.  In terms of working cooperatively with cities (such as San Francisco and Portland, Oregon), airbnb has “talked the talk” but has not “walked the walk”.

airbnb really has two businesses:

  1. airbnb host-resident “Private Room” rentals (mini-B&Bs) do help hosts stay in their homes and pay their rent and mortgage. They do not deplete housing stock (unless you count long-term roommate rentals). And they often offer a true value to the traveler.
  2. In contrast, airbnb host-absent “entire place” rentals (a.k.a. vacation rentals) generate airbnb horror stories, irritate neighbors, destroy the character of residential neighborhoods and deplete the housing stock. This is why Santa Monica, CA recently limited airbnb rentals to just host-resident “private room” rentals.

In most cities any landlord can rent their property 30 nights or more at a time (a month-to-month rental). It is just “short-term” rentals of less than 30-days (often referred to as “transient lodging”) that are the issue. The only reason to rent short-term rather than long-term is that if your location is right you can make a lot more money renting short-term.

airbnb host-absent “entire place” rentals when offered on an ongoing basis are really just “vacation rentals”. Vacation rentals in resort areas have been heavily regulated for years.  What’s new with airbnb is the concept of an unregulated “urban vacation rental”.  Host-absent vacation rentals need to be more heavily regulated than host-resident “entire place” rentals.

As others have noted, actions that Airbnb needs to take:

  • Only display listings that include permit numbers from The City
  • Only allow a host to have one listing
  • Limit the number of night per year that an “entire place” can be rented in line with The City’s ordinance

None of these actions require Airbnb to turn over any host data.

One final note, the only reasonable assessment of the impact of airbnb on housing needs to be measured by host-absent “entire place” rentals within a zip code.  This is because airbnb rentals affect some neighborhoods greatly and others not at all. So city-wide statistics are meaningless.

So the question is will airbnb adopt the creed of “do no evil”? Or will it continue to pretend that enabling illegal host-absent vacation rentals is saving the middle class in San Francisco?