Wednesday, September 30, 2020
Uncategorized Mayor's Airbnb bill won't defuse ballot measure

Mayor’s Airbnb bill won’t defuse ballot measure

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Changes in the short-term rental law don’t address the major problem — so this fight is going to the November ballot

A protest against Airbnb: The mayor's measure isn't going to quell the community anger
A protest against Airbnb: The mayor’s measure isn’t going to quell the community anger

By Tim Redmond

APRIL 15, 2015 — Sup. Mark Farrell and Mayor Ed Lee introduced amendments to the city’s short-term rental law yesterday – but the legislation doesn’t address the major concerns of critics (or even the City Planning Department) and will do little to stop what looks like a major battle over a ballot initiative in November.

The new bill would limit all short-term rentals to 120 days a year, and provide a limited private right of action for neighbors who believe that the law is being broken. That action, though, doesn’t involve enough in the way of civil penalties to encourage any private lawyers to take the cases.

The measure would create a new Office of Short-Term Residential Rental Administration and Enforcement, “jointly staffed by the Planning Department, Department of Building Inspection, and the Tax Collector’s Office.” There is no new funding in the measure for that office.

City planners have complained that with more than 5,000 people using Airbnb and similar platforms for short-term rentals, and no additional enforcement staff, it’s impossible to keep track of the violations. So few people have registered for permits that the vast, vast majority of the existing Airbnb rentals are still illegal.

The most significant shortfall of the new bill, critics say, is that it fails to hold the hosting platforms – like Airbnb, a $20 billion business – liable for ensuring that the properties on their websites are following the local rules.

In Portland, Oregon, the hosting platform are required to monitor the listings and make sure that every single one has registered with the city and is following the local laws.

But San Francisco, under the existing law and the new amendments, doesn’t even require the companies to give the city information on where the rentals are – much less mandate that they take responsibility for making sure that they aren’t effectively encouraging illegal activity.

“I’m stunned,” Dale Carlson, who is among those working on a fall ballot initiative, told me.

Share Better San Francisco, the group working for tighter rules, noted:

This legislation moves us in the wrong direction. It exacerbates the incentives to illegally convert residential units to tourist accommodations. It completely indemnifies Airbnb and other hosting platforms that are aiding and abetting illegal activity. And it denies regular people the opportunity to effectively defend their own homes and neighborhoods.

The Planning Department has made it abundantly clear that the Airbnb legislation passed by the Board of Supervisors last fall is unenforceable. By failing to penalize hosting platforms that violate the law and denying regular San Franciscans their day in court, the amendments proposed today will make the unenforceability problem much worse.

And here’s the interesting political twist:

Airbnb will be a major issue in the District 3 supervisorial race. Challenger Aaron Peskin has been active in the coalition working for tighter rules, and the district has lost a lot of affordable housing stock to Airbnb.

But the mayor will have a hard time getting six votes for this bill unless his appointee, Sup. Julie Christensen, votes for it.

Peskin told me tonight that he sees the Lee/Farrell bill as “Airbnb’s dream. It’s still completely unenforceable and it does nothing to stop the bad actors from devastating the city’s housing stock.”

So in the middle of what looks to be a heated campaign, the mayor is forcing Christensen to take a difficult and potentially unpopular stand on an issue that involves one of the mayor’s biggest donors and allies, Ron Conway, a big investor in Airbnb – who is also supporting Christensen.

Was that smart? Does it matter when it comes to Conway’s dominance of City Hall? Or is this a game to bring all the parties to the table with a measure that might obviate a ballot fight?

I don’t know — but so far, these changes won’t do much of anything to undermine the initiative effort.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.

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  35. All the numbers share a common bias and common failings, as noted, So of course they “agree” with each other.

    There is no way to check accuracy.

  36. The benchmark is the decennial census. If you must have an independent benchmark (why, one wonders), you can use the Current Population Survey. All of these align.

    When all the numbers say one thing, but intuition says another, the wise man looks at the numbers.

  37. Nobody else is reading this thread, Sam.

    If we must use the first and second person, I am quite comfortable taking the side of mathematics, reason and logic.

  38. Those conversations are being had, behind closed doors and by your betters, the ones who’ve led us to the political wilderness. None of us are invited to participate.

  39. ..we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley’s ingenious sophistry to prove the non-existence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it, ‘I refute it THUS.’

    This argument that all survey results are unverifiable is exactly like Berkeley’s immaterialism.

    Kick a rock, Sam, and get back to us.

    Videlicet http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1564/1564-h/1564-h.htm

  40. Repeating tired demands for the hand of Zoroaster to provide ultimate truth is not a critique, it is a plea for revelation. Spirituality is fine, but revelation is no way to analyze data.

  41. At a certain point, demands for perfect validation by a final authority reduce to demands for the existence of god.

    Sorry to be the one to break the news: there is no god.

  42. And if people lied, how would they know?

    Where is the EXTERNAL benchmark that validates both of these efforts?

  43. The decennial census is a census, not a survey. It is the benchmark because, as best is possible, it counts everyone. The annual ACS is a survey. It samples.

    There is no question that a random sample of thousands of units will outperform intuition. Intuition is the brain’s back-of-the-envelope model of its own knowledge. That is a sample, too, but much smaller and biased. The results must underperform a proven model based on a much larger, unbiased sample.

  44. Yes, we know, the census benchmarks itself. QED.

    You cannot claim any out-performance without having a neutral benchmark to measure it against

  45. Once more, with feeling: the Census benchmarks and verifies its survey results against its decennial census, which counts everyone. It is a census, not a survey.

    Even if there were no benchmark, a sample of thousands of housing units, like the ACS, will always outperform a sample of a few dozen, like any individual’s personal knowledge.

  46. The VC industry has what now? There are a few rich noodleheads with a lot of money. It is depressing that local politicians listen to them instead of making good policy. There is a neat answer, though: organize. People have lives, though, which is why it is so dispiriting to see what pressure has been applied focused on rounding errors like the Ellis Act.

    Strong enforcement seems unnecessary. People usually don’t cheat if there is reporting and if they must file something.

  47. I believe there is widespread support for a shift away from the ‘anything goes’ economy and I think Lee’s people are afraid, based upon how many times I’ve been polled in the last 3 months and the type of questions they are asking.

    Ideally, I think SF should require 100% reporting from AirBnB going back 4 years and that is legally doable. Then we would have the data to see what policies are needed and development strong enforcement tools.

    But knowing that AirBnB venture capitalists and other profiteers have a stranglehold on SF, I think the best we should hope for is the existing laws modified to allow easy enforcement.

  48. Answer the question I asked (How can we verify and benchmark their results? ) and not the question you wished I had asked (How can I learn more about their methods?)

    I don’t think you can, because I have asked it over a dozen times, and each time you try and deflect

  49. The common phrasing is ‘social democracy’, isn’t it?

    There are three issues about which to think in handling Airbnb abuse: policy, execution and politics. Current policy strikes me as fair: limited use when treating your place as a hotel, unlimited use when you are present and you share with paying guests.

    Requiring reporting for unlimited use would go a long way, though. Most people don’t cheat on their taxes, in part because of all those W2s and 1099s. It would probably mostly work.

    The politics seem trickiest. How do you convince folks this is all a good idea, and not an unwarranted intrusion?

  50. You want to discuss tactics here. But if your entire premise is wrong, that is moot. And various people here have been pointing out the flaws in your premise, but you are blind and deaf to the truth

  51. A self-described “margin of error” isn’t the point.

    Where is the EXTERNAL means to verify that?

    They can say anything.

  52. Perhaps this is a first step in a longer process. This thing has been so piecemeal up till now. Pass this part and start working on the next phase to deal with the enforcement issues. This will be a big issue in the Supervisor race. The district is highly impacted by displacement and housing problems.

  53. No, not at all. Ideally we could be developing talking points to deflate those from avarice-driven people like you. I don’t want cheer leading and borrowing from Marx, I’d never belong to a committee that would have me as a member. I hate the left just about as much as I hate the right. But I believe hybrid economic (capitalism and socialism) systems are the future.

  54. If the critique was, ‘many people.. do not respond to such surveys,’ then refusal and response rates are the issue.

    The Census reports a margin of error for all its estimates. The 2013 1-year ACS ‘other’ vacancy estimate around 9,000 units is has a margin of error around 1,800; the 5-year ACS estimate around 13,000 has MoE around 1,000.

  55. No, no, you don’t understand. It’s only OK to break laws that the left dislikes.

    Everyone knows that.

  56. Yeah, and by “discussion” you mean cheerleading along with people who agree with you, right? That isn’t even close to being a “discussion”.

  57. “Anyway, according to you, you have been breaking the law for the last 15 years. Your admission automatically invalidates any of your comments.”

    LOL. This is a city with pot clubs in violation of federal law, a city which provides assistance to those illegally consuming other controlled substances, a city in which refreshments containing both legal and illegal substances are freely sold in public parks to everyone’s enjoyment, a city which officially extends a welcome to immigrants that are here in violation of federal law, a city where double parking is the norm and not the exception, a city which granted marriage licenses that it technically had no authority to grant.

    All of which may well be justified! Nonetheless, you gotta face it: breaking the law is a local pastime here. And no, techies didn’t make it so.

  58. We’ll see, Sam. You’ve had your comments deleted here before and given the content and tone in articles by Tim and others, it is you who is out of place here.

  59. The decennial census is a census: it counts everyone, as near as it can. The ACS is a survey: it randomly samples a subset.

    Refusal rates to the ACS are around 1% every year. The government shutdown knocked 2013’s response rate down to 90%, but that’s hardly low enough to question the results.

    Separating other-vacant units from other vacancies, around 30% are post-’79 or single family, versus nearly 50% of remaining vacancies, so there absolutely is a significant effect.

  60. Gary, civil disobedience against unjust laws is the hallmark of the fight for justice. I am proud to have played a small part in the fight against excessive bureaucracy.

    And you don’t get to decide what debates we have here. The rest of us do. If you do not like what we discuss here, then find another site.

  61. You don’t get to decide ‘the more important debate’ for me.

    Anyway, according to you, you have been breaking the law for the last 15 years. Your admission automatically invalidates any of your comments.

    “I’ve been enjoying it for 15 years and it has been “illegal” the whole time. Read the article – it’s impossible to enforce.” –Soupetal (aka Sam).

    https://48hills.org/2015/04/14/mayors-airbnb-bill-wont-defuse-ballot-measure/#comment-1968969844

  62. Like I said, the categories of the supply change. Less long-term rentals and more short-term rentals and owner-occupation.

    I see no problem with that and, indeed, rent control makes that inevitable.

  63. Gary, the more important debate is whether we should be obsessing about a few SF residents who wish to share their home? As many have successfully argued, it does not remove housing.

    If you cannot convince the community here, then what chance do you have with the voters?

  64. It would be nice if this blog wasn’t a dog whistle for libertarians. I would like to discuss ballot/election strategies to clamp down on illegal AirBnb rentals.

  65. I’d be really interested in how an interviewer can “observe” who or what is in my home, if I do not let him in.

    Does he do a stake-out? Use infra-red cameras?

    So the benchmark for the census is the census? LOL

  66. Sure, that’s true. Total housing supplied does not change, however total housing demanded does, affecting market price.

  67. Try to recall, we’ve discussed this before. If an interviewer cannot get a response from anyone, which includes agents, managers and neighbors, he completes the survey by observation.

    There is a benchmark against which to measure annual ACS surveys: it is the decennial census. Even if there were no benchmark, well designed surveys like the ACS always report margins of error. Survey science is well understood.

  68. Rent control changes supply by switching the type of supply.

    If controlled units are being converted to TIC’s or rented for less than 30 days at a time, then the supply of long-term controlled lets has become smaller.

  69. Because I know many people who do not respond to such surveys, and they are usually the ones the survey would be most interested in.

    And also because there is no benchmark to measure ACS against, so if it were totally wrong, you’d have no way of knowing

  70. The problem is with the word “vacant”. The issue for rent control zealots is the number of units that are not occupied by a long-term controlled tenant. That number is huge.

    While if you mean how many units have nobody in them year after year, then that is probably far smaller.

    The real point is that rent control deters owners from renting long-term, and you cannot blame Airbnb for that trend. You have to blame rent control. Price controls have always deterred supply, which is why they generally only work short-term, during wars or emergencies.

  71. How is any one person’s intuition, no matter how well informed, going to outperform a randomized survey conducted by survey professionals sampling thousands of units?

  72. What’s wrong with randomized surveys? The 2013 ACS finds around 25,000 vacancies in the city, which rings true. Of those, 6,000 were for rent, 3,000 were rented but not occupied, 1,000 were for sale, 2,000 were sold but not occupied and 6,000 were for seasonal, recreational, or occasional use.

    There just aren’t that many truly vacant units in the city, under 9,000 in 2013, and probably even fewer today.

  73. Per 2013 ACS microdata, over 40% of vacant units are post-’79 or single family, detached or attached. ACS doesn’t flag vacant condos, so this number probably skews slightly low.

  74. I doubt the city could ever tax vacancies, because there is no good way of knowing whether my home is occupied or by whom, on a day-to-day basis.

    But yes, the city should be subsidizing rents rather than individual owners. Section 8 is a much fairer system

  75. There is no good way to count vacant units, but some city officials have come up with numbers between 10,000 and 40,000.

    Of course, it depends what you mean by “vacant”. It probably makes more sense to count the number of controlled units that, upon a vacancy, are not re-rented long-term. That number really is large.

    For instance, I have owned 15 rent-controlled units in SF over the last 18 years, and only one of them is currently rented out to a long-term controlled tenant. The other 14 are either short-term lets or TIC, condo’ed or otherwise owner-occupied.

    Another example. For a while I owned both a TIC and a condo. I lived in the TIC and rented out the condo, because rent control means that makes much more sense than the other way about.

    The over-riding point is that rent control causes landlords to behave in a way that minimizes how rent control affects them, and that leads to LESS RENTAL HOMES.

    Airbnb is a footnote compared to that

  76. It’s important to remember that the numbers of units involved are small. Yes, there are thousands of Airbnb listings. No, these are not all or even mostly newly removed from housing use.

    Preliminaries aside, there are perfectly reasonable people who do not want to rent long term. Neighbors of whom we know like this primarily are owner occupants of two unit buildings.

    If the city taxed vacancies, or subsidized rent controlled tenancies, or both, some of those might change their minds.

  77. It has been widely stated by you here. I’ve never seen anyone else making this claim. In your world, ideology trumps reality. A landlord who can rent his/her unit at market rate today but withholds it because of rent control is an idiot. Of course it is their right do so, but I challenge that there are ‘thousands’ of units withheld for this reason.

  78. Yes, it makes more sense to run rentals just outside the city limits. Rents are similar but you can kick out the tenants with 6 days notice, no cause needed.

  79. There are probably a few corporate-type Airbnb entities but the vast majority are ordinary people renting out rooms on an occasional basis, or their entire home when they are away.

    HOA rules and tenant leases may be valid cases but I personally do not agree that the concept of zoning addresses whether I have a guest in my home or not.

    As for the “hotel” comment, that has nothing to do with whether the guest pays me or not. I could be running party-central at my home, with guests and visitors coming all the time, but not charge for it. The effect on you is the same either way. It’s not the changing hands of money that disrupts you, but the traffic.

  80. It has been widely quoted here and elsewhere, and you know it.

    Why is it a shock to you that landlords might want to avoid rent control?

  81. You may be wrong there. A number of AirBnB specific management companies have sprouted up.

    It’s also not micro-managing when people are violating zoning laws, HOA rules, taxes by commoditizing their residence. I’m sure you know that but you’re throwing out the right-wing rhetoric to see what sticks. I sure didn’t sign up to live in a hotel when I bought my condo.

  82. Well, yes, the implication that they are renting some units comes directly from calling them, you know, “landlords”. Why they do so is their own business. The fact remains that certain aspects of SF tenant law make renting out property a much, much riskier proposition than elsewhere, and a lot of property owners are choosing not to rent out property they own as a result. That is still an inevitable consequence, regardless of whether the laws are defensible or not.

  83. Various estimates show thousands of vacant residential units in SF. I will near guarantee you that they are all controlled.

    But I wasn’t arguing to keep them vacant. Rather use them for short-term lets, corporate lets, temporary visitors, academic lets, or sell them as TICs.

    SF has achieved a situation where long-term renting is the least attractive option for owners. Why on earth would anyone ever do that?

  84. And you’re deluded if you think landlords don’t rent their rental units, other than an handful of nutcases.

  85. I’ve been enjoying it for 15 years and it has been “illegal” the whole time. Read the article – it’s impossible to enforce.

  86. You’re deluded if you think it’s only libertarians who’d shy away from being a landlord. That isn’t me at all, but I’d always choose to sell a piece of property in SF rather than renting it – because there’s an influential faction in SF that would want my renting it to _always_ carry the potential of being a lifetime commitment to housing that tenant. And someday they might win that.

    It’s just too dangerous.

  87. Most people who use Airbnb are regular people – home owners, tenants and guests.

    It is the people trying to control and micro-manage what regular people do in their own homes that is the problem here.

  88. I haven’t removed any units. I have just decided that I no longer want to engage in long-term controlled tenancies. So the units are already lost. The invasive rules have achieved that, not Airbnb.

    And I don’t do short-term lets for ideological reasons. I do it for the very practical reason that the tenants will leave when intended and I get my place back. I am continually free to stop doing lets or to raise the rent. I also meet interesting people from all over the world – truthfully a lot more interesting than the average SF resident.

    You want more long term lets? Easy. Lighten the restrictions.

  89. You can’t have it both ways. If building more housing will eventually lower rents for residential units – as you have said many times, then removing residential units for short-term vacation rentals will raise rents for residential units.

    And guess what Sam? Most landlords are not ideologues. They do not keep rental units off the market because they don’t like the rules and regulations. Only you and your nutcase, libertarian brethren do that.

  90. And how would that be enforced if the hosting site was, say, overseas?

    All you are doing is disadvantaging local sites versus ones that are beyond the city’s jurisdiction. A website can be anywhere.

  91. Read subsection (g)(4)(a). All it requires of hosting platforms is that they notify their ‘hosts’ of the City’s registration requirements. If the platforms list units that aren’t registered, they face no consequences, unlike in Portland.

  92. Oops, sorry, Tim didn’t say that; the ballot initiative people did. My bad. But it sounds like something that he would make up.

  93. Yes, that bizarre statement assumes that if I wasn’t renting my unit to European visitors for $1,000 a week, that I would instead somehow miraculously rent it to a low-income unemployed homeless disabled activist artist transsexual of color for a super cheap rent out of a high and mighty nobility.

    The reality, of course, is that I would instead either use it myself, sell it as a TIC or otherwise monetize it in a way that isn’t going to help solve Redmond’s growing obsession with this issue over all others.

    Guess what, Tim? You cannot force me to provide an “affordable” home no matter how many anal-retentive invasive nosey petty-minded Big Brother laws you pass. Because, in the end, it is my home to do with as I want.

    The most this will achieve is cause me to not use the over-monitored Airbnb and instead use a foreign site far from Redmond’s jurisdictional scope.

  94. Well, that was Peskin who said that. So it isn’t supposed to have any relationship to the truth. When the Chronicle went through the numbers to estimate the number of units functioning as full time Airbnb “hotels rooms” they came up with a figure in the low hundreds.

    Also, Tim made this part up:

    “It completely indemnifies Airbnb and other hosting platforms that are aiding and abetting illegal activity.”

    TechCrunch printed the text of the ordinance, which contains things like:

    “a Hosting Platform in violation of subsection (g)(4)(A) may be liable for civil penalties of mot more that $1,000 per day for the period of the unlawful activity”

    You can see more here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/261893774/New-proposed-Airbnb-regulations

    It may not be as tough on AirBnb as Tim would like but when he says that it completely indemnifies them he is being creative again.

  95. It really is staggering. The under 2% number of units (6,500 or so out of 377,000) being obliterated from the face of the housing market are really creating an overwhelming challenge that cannot be addressed by building any housing. All hope is lost!

  96. devastating the city’s housing stock??? where is it going. Is the housing no longer there? was it razed?

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