Wednesday, May 5, 2021
Uncategorized Herrera goes after landlords, but what about airbnb?

Herrera goes after landlords, but what about airbnb?

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By Tim Redmond

Dennis Herrera has filed suit against two landlords who he says have illegally evicted tenants and turned rental housing into hotel rooms. It’s the first legal salvo in San Francisco against the big companies that are making tons of money through something that, in many places, is flatly illegal.

It comes at a time when New York State’s attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, is going after the short-term rental folks head-on. He’s gone after not just landlords but the companies themselves. As he notes in a New York Times oped:

Take Airbnb, a San Francisco-based company now valued at close to $10 billion that enables users in 192 countries to turn their homes into hotel rooms. In 2010, the state of New York passed a law confirming that short-stay rentals were generally illegal in apartment buildings, and for good reason: The longstanding distinction between hotels and apartment buildings protects the rights of building residents who didn’t choose to live 10 feet away from a parade of strangers. The law also protects tourists — who are usually unfamiliar with the rooms and buildings where they are sleeping — by imposing stiffer fire safety and building codes on hotels.

Airbnb “hosts” rent out apartments every day in violation of this law. Some of these are large, commercial enterprises with dozens of apartments — truly illegal hotels.

The most straightforward solution would be for Airbnb to simply prevent illegal transactions. But when my office reached out to Airbnb, the company rejected the idea of self-policing out of hand and refused to provide data that would give us a handle on the scope of the problem. With my hope of working in partnership with Airbnb dashed, we were forced to subpoena the company for information, a step that Airbnb has attempted to quash in court.

Herrera’s suits (you can read the complaints here) outline in great detail how two alleged scofflaws operated. They used the Ellis Act to get rid of existing tenants – and then, according to the complaint, boldly began advertising the places as hotel-type rentals on websites like airbnb and VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner.) There are public statements from former renters talking about how much they liked their faux-hotel. There are public statements by the owners advertising the units for three-night minimum stays.

There are complaints by neighbors, citations by the City Planning Department – and no evidence that either of the landlords made any real effort to comply with the law – or even hide what they were doing.

This is the climate we’ve had in this city for several years now: So what if it’s illegal? Go ahead and turn your place into a hotel; nobody’s going to do anything about it.

So now, at least, Herrera has made it clear: Go too far, and we’ll come after you.

But he can’t catch everyone; there are way too many violations. Every day, thousands of apartments are on airbnb. And in New York, the AG is demanding that the companies making money off this model – not just the people renting their units – be held accountable.

It’s tricky – airbnb can argue that it does nothing illegal. But if your entire business model is based on providing a platform for other people to break the law, aren’t you even a little bit liable?

And if the city attorney went directly after these companies, might we be able to do what current legislation won’t – make these folks pay back taxes and fees?

Just a thought.

Marke B.
Marke Bieschke is the publisher and arts and culture editor of 48 Hills. He co-owns the Stud bar in SoMa. Reach him at marke (at) 48hills.org, follow @supermarke on Twitter.

4 COMMENTS

  1. the SFAA has been asking the city to crack down on this, here is an except from SFAA last year

    “City leaders in San Francisco have been made aware of SFAA’s concerns about the proliferation and problems related with short-term vacation rentals in residential apartment buildings. The mayor’s office, the city attorney, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the planning department, the rent board, and the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection have all been notified by SFAA of the laws being broken by tenants who rent their units for profit as hotel rooms. To date, there has been no clear denunciation of the “hotelization” of residential apartment units. City officials appear to be torn between catering to the agenda of the new “sharing economy” versus enforcing the current laws. ”

    http://www.sfaa.org/august2013/1308_franco.shtml

    now tell me the system is balanced, instead they publicly prosecute 2 landlords. This whole anger against landlords is fueled for political gain and manipulated by the labor unions to stir up support for higher wages.

    If reporting were balanced and legitimately balanced, you would see the actual people on the street, landlords and tenants, really aren’t that far apart. And, there is good and bad on both sides of the fence.

  2. Not old at all when property owners are breaking the law. And I didn’t read anything here about tenants violating their lease. I hope Dennis Herrera can go after everyone who’s doing this.

  3. ironic that when landlords airbnb their own buildings, it’s criminal. However, when tenants violate the terms of their lease AND the break the very same laws these property owners have, the story reads….poor tenant yes evicted. What we need in this city is balance, and solutions. This property owner bashing is getting really old

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