Sunday, January 17, 2021
News + Politics Supes, behind Christensen, gut any real Airbnb regulations

Supes, behind Christensen, gut any real Airbnb regulations

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Critics say D3 Sup does the impossible: She makes a bad law worse

Sup. Julie Christensen removed even the modest limits in an Airbnb bill
Sup. Julie Christensen removed even the modest limits in an Airbnb bill

By Tim Redmond

JULY 15, 2015 – Sup. Julie Christensen introduced amendments that made a bad law worse, and the supervisors yesterday passed a set of rules that will make it easier for landlords to take rental housing off the market and turn it into hotel rooms.

It was a stunning display of obeisance to the corporate overlords of tech – and will likely fuel the campaign for a ballot initiative to limit short-term rentals, which has just qualified for the ballot.

There were two proposals before the supervisors, and they were profoundly different.

The measure by Sup. David Campos would have required hosting platforms like Airbnb to make sure that every unit they list complied with local law. The competing measure, by Sup. Mark Farrell (with Christensen’s amendments) would shift the responsibility completely off the corporations and onto the city and the people hosting visitors.

The city planners have long insisted that they can’t enforce the law unless they get the data from the hosting platforms that Campos wanted to require.

Farrell and Christensen said that the city, which has been utterly unable to enforce existing law, could do a better job with a new enforcement office – and that hosts, some of whom have blatantly disregarded the law for years, will start telling the city how often they are renting out units.

Campos started the debate by noting that the current law, sponsored by former Sup. David Chiu (and written in part by Airbnb) isn’t working. Citing the Chron’s report on short-term rentals, he pointed out that scarce rental housing is being turned into hotel rooms all over town. His bill, he said, would cut the number of short-term rentals by 27 percent – and most of those would be the places where landlords have turned residential property into commercial hotels.

Farrell also acknowledged that the current rules aren’t working, and said it was time “to get this law right.” He said that a ballot initiative is the wrong way to address an evolving and fast-changing technology.

But what he offered won’t address the main concerns that drove so many people to sign the initiative that will appear on the November ballot.

His measure would limit short-term rentals at any unit to 120 days a year – but would rely on the city and neighbors to be vigilant enough to make sure nobody’s cheating. His measure has no mandates that the hosting platform either block unregistered listings or tell the city how many days a unit is rented out.

Sup. Norman Yee, who represents the West of Twin Peaks area, proposed an amendment that would require the city to notify neighbors within 300 feet if a property owner filed an application to be a short-term rental host. That rule would have applied in most residential areas.

Sup. Malia Cohen challenged Yee, asking why he had proposed such a broad plan, instead of limiting it to the few parts of town that have single-family detached houses. His proposal was defeated 6-5 – in the first of a series of votes that went exactly the same way.

Christensen made a remarkable statement, given that the entire reason this was before the board is that most people agree the current law has failed. She praised Chiu for his work, and said that the law “is not broken, but is not fully implemented.”

She said “it takes a while to establish a process.”

And while that is happening, of course, the evictions continue.

She moved to eliminate the 120-day cap that Farrell had proposed, and replace it with the existing rules, which allow pretty much unlimited short-term rentals as long as the host is at home.

There is, most agree, no way to enforce that without spying on every one of the 5,000 or so STR units in the city to see who is living there when.

But no matter: She pushed for that, and then asked that the hosts be the ones who have to file quarterly reports on how many nights they are renting out their apartments.

Campos was stunned. “Sup. Christensen’s proposals do what I didn’t think was possible,” he said. “They have made the Farrell/Lee proposal much worse.”

The amendments, he said, “shift responsibility to the hosts.” He compared it to a rule that would put the onus on hotel guests, not the hotels, to collect and pay the city’s hotel tax.

“This is an unprecedented step,” he said. “You are turning your back on the hosts to protect a $23 billion company.”

But never mind: This deal was done.

The Christensen amendments were adopted, 6-5, with Sups. London Breed, Christensen, Malia Cohen, Farrell, Katy Tang, and Scott Wiener in support.

The Campos bill went down by the same margin.

The Farrell measure was adopted, again 6-5.

“This is stunning,” Calvin Welch, one of the people who organized the initiative campaign, told me after the meeting. “If you believe that coal is clean, then you can believe that this is regulation.”

I understand Farrell’s concern — this is a complicated area of law, and it would be nice if the board could carefully craft working regulations. But apparently the mayor and the Airbnb lobbyists have made sure that won’t happen. So now the voters will have their say.

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.

105 COMMENTS

  1. […] The measure, sponsored by Sups. London Breed and Aaron Peskin, would cap all rentals at 60 days. Breed voted against similar caps when the original legislation passed; in fact, she was the sixth vote to allow Airbnb to do business legally in SF under very lax rules with no effective enforcement. That law has probably cost a few thousand renters their homes – it’s encouraged landlords to evict all their tenants and turn entire buildings into hotel rooms. Then she voted to make the law even worse. […]

  2. So wait, I’m confused…people are actually in support of government regulation of privately owned property? What is this? Communist China?

  3. The DPT collects $300 million a year in fees and fines by enforcing parking regulations. You cant tell me that the city can’t enforce regulations, especially when there are 27,000 employees on the city payroll. Its called reallocating personnel.

  4. It depends on the lease. Most rental leases will have a provision about subletting. If it is prohibited then you can’t STR space, without risking action by your landlord. Note that under the Chiu legislation, it is no longer grounds for automatic eviction. Instead, the landlord can slap you with a 3 day notice to cease the activity or quit the lease.

    Better yet would be to negotiate with your landlord to allow this. Believe it or not, there are renters that do this with the blessing of their landlords. I personally know several. If you’re in a rent-controlled building, it is understandable why a landlord would not want you to profit from the activity but if is needed to help pay your rent and you can make enough to provide a kick back to the landlord, some landlords will agree to this arrangement. It all depends on the landlord.

  5. I like most of what I have seen thus far from Christensen, but this legislation just passed is a disgrace. Different cities have very different housing challenges. San Francisco legally can and must prevent rental housing from being converted into full time tourist rentals. Continuing to support toothless regulation is an insult to the electorate’s intelligence. I don’t want to legislate badly through voter initiatives. But if the supervisors and mayor won’t deal with this issue effectively, the voters will bring a sledge hammer to make policy. That is not good for the City.

  6. Meanwhile in Catalunya:

    Catalonia declares war on Airbnb type rentals

    “Tourists face a new tax for staying in private homes in Catalonia as part of a clampdown that will see severe restrictions placed on holiday rentals.

    The new norms will charge individuals 0.65 euros per night in Barcelona and 0.45 euros elsewhere in Catalonia – including its sunny beach resorts – the regional government said in a statement on Tuesday.

    It will limit such rentals to two rooms per property for a maximum of four months a year, making owners declare the activity to authorities and be present during guest stays.”

    More here:

    http://www.thelocal.es/20150716/catalonia-to-tax-airbnb-rentals

  7. No counted here: a pending big negative ad campaign against Peskin funded by Ron Conway and friends.

  8. The national GOP has been making stuff up for years, and repeating it incessantly. They’ve achieved stunniing results in Congress, despite losing presidential elections.

  9. If it isn’t AirBnB, it’s a sublet over CraigsList. Really, what’s the difference minus the flashy web site?

  10. It could also help pay for people’s _mortgages_ too. Heaven forbid someone be a homeowner though!

  11. It’s not Julie they’re all worried about. What we’re witnessing here on full display is a bad case of Peskin Derangement Syndrome.

    It’s actually kind of ironic how much hatred there is toward Aaron Peskin. In a way it doesn’t make much sense, because Peskin was kind of a pragmatist rather than an ideological purist. But I actually think that’s the essence of it. He, along with Chris Daly who not coincidentally is also loathed by the corporate elite, was the most effective in terms of getting things done on the BOS. Peskin got more bills passed than anyone else, and that effectiveness makes him hated in the halls of power. He’s one of the few progressives who plays for keeps.

  12. To all those who say Peskin had no experience, I think his work as an environmental and community activist spoke for itself, and translated into his ability to get elected in his own right (something this Crony Christensen could never be able to do in a million years because she has no roots in the community), against a sitting incumbent supervisor (a feat that he will soon repeat).

    As for how much he’s earned, I don’t judge a person’s worth based on his monetary earnings, and frankly I find it a bit sexist to even bring that up.

  13. I would say that Peskin has decades of experience of being an a$$hole, bully, and a drunk. That counts for something. His campaign slogan would be just as effective and true if it said “Aaron peskin – for a better way to turn lead into gold”

  14. Everyone who knows anything about D3 knows that Peskin has been working in the background with Telegraph Hill Dwellers to try and kill the affordable housing project on Seawall Lot 322 this entire time.

    Peskin is a NIMBY, a blowhard, and a hypocrite, but other than that he’s very lovable.

  15. Gary, hate to break it to you, but we are in San Francisco. And in San Francisco, progressives have developed a reputation for generating BS data.

  16. What, zero?

    As far as anyone can tell, Peskin is a 51 year old man who has never earned a dime except from the BOS. Usually city aldermen have some function in civilian society. Maybe he worked part time while he was getting his BA from UC Santa Cruz.

    So he gets termed out, he sits around doing nothing for 8 years and now he wants to come back.

    Who wants to be represented by someone who is, quite clearly, pathetic.

  17. Oh so you think many keep apartments that are rent controlled to use as AirBnB and pay more to live elsewhere? Possible, but not likely I bet. And I understand your point but to expect them to help evict more people is disingenuous.

  18. There would be a lot more “roommate” situations if renters can’t use Airbnb to fill in that extra bedroom a renter would otherwise live.

  19. In San Francisco our elected leaders are trying to make it easier for landlords to take rental housing off the market and turn it into hotel rooms while Santa Monica has instituted the nation’s toughest regulations on short-term rentals. Here is whats missing from Christensen and Chiu’s legislation.

    Santa Monicas new legislation requires home sharing hosts to live on the property during the renter’s stay, register for a business license and collect the city’s 14 percent occupancy tax. http://www.forbes.com/sites/andrewbender/2015/06/15/new-regulations-to-wipe-out-80-of-airbnb-rentals-in-californias-santa-monica/

    The supervisors in SF could have done the same but they already cashed those doner checks http://sfist.com/2015/04/24/big_names_throw_their_weight_behind.php

    Julie Christensen and her SPUR friends are out of touch with what voters in D3, and the rest of the city want. If you keep voting for candidates on the corporate payroll they will continue to ignore ordinary citizens who are struggling to stay in the city.

  20. No need to worry about Julie if she loses the D3 race. She has that trust fund to fall back on.

  21. Well you make enough shit up and people will stop believing you. Happens to Rush/O’Reilly all the time, now it’s happening to the progressives in SF.

  22. “Um, if you evict one tenant, raise the rent and rent to another person, I am unsure how that creates more rent controlled units.”

    Compelling a tenant hoarding a rent controlled unit that they don’t actually live in to give it up (by getting rid of the option to Airbnb it instead) frees up a rent controlled unit.

    The AEMP are entitled to focus on specific needs for a group, but they claim to be working to reduce displacement of tenants, and their ostensible beef with Airbnb is that it accelerates that. If they were serious about it, they’d be bothered by this kind of use as well.

  23. Um, if you evict one tenant, raise the rent and rent to another person, I am unsure how that creates more rent controlled units. I am not advocating that rent controlled tenants use AirBnB vs getting roommate. And why shouldn’t organizations focus on specific needs for a group? Do you expect them to focus on homeowners issues?

  24. Well, yes. It would facilitate for-fault evictions. It would also make more apartments that aren’t being used for long term housing available in the city to renters, and reduce pressure on the local housing market in the same way reducing homeowners’ use of Airbnb would.

    It’s just an example of how their effort is specifically geared towards helping a very particular subset of residents at the expense of others – including many others who are also tenants.

  25. >That was before he got on the wrong side of Pak.

    OK. Thanks. Pak supported Campos but Chiu still carried 2/3 of D3. But, again, that is stuff that only matters back on planet earth, so no need to worry yourself.

  26. How is it different whether a renter or owner does this? When a renter is sitting on a rent controlled unit and renting it out this way for an extended period of time (one case I know of went on for several months at least), that’s keeping it out of the hands of a long term renter. The landlord could be absent, oblivious, indifferent, or getting a cut; regardless of why, the net effect is the same.

  27. I’m assuming it would reduce the supply of rent controlled space, or at least the number of people who could share a rental if currant tenant of rent controlled unit used as AirBnB instead. My point was simply that claim that Airbnb enables people to afford SF is not really true.

  28. If they released info on renters doing this, they would facilitate evictions, why would they do that?

  29. “But renters using Airbnb could affect SF’s rent-controlled housing supply just as much, or more.”

    How could renters affect SF’s rent-controlled housing?

  30. A while back, the AEMP was encouraging people to submit information about Airbnb rentals by owners that they knew of, supposedly in an effort to quantify how it was affecting availability of SF’s housing stock. They specifically said they were _not_ interested in information about Airbnb rentals by renters.

    But renters using Airbnb could affect SF’s rent-controlled housing supply just as much, or more. They didn’t want to highlight this because the degree to which renters use it could present some more uncomfortable issues for them.

  31. I don’t know that they are doing that. I wrote supposedly “avoids” in quotes because that is what RealFakeSanFranciscan wrote in his/her comment above, which I was responding to: “(Somewhat tellingly, the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project intentionally avoids trying to collect stats on this.)”

  32. How do you know they avoid doing this? Anyway, I thought they focused on no fault evictions. Breaking a lease is not no fault.

  33. I understand why my landlord would be upset if I rented out a room and earned more than I paid in rent. I am just wondering why some suggest that renters can afford to stay if they do this as I bet if caught, they would lose their apartment. Sure, you have to get caught, but I sure as hell wouldn’t risk it.

  34. While I believe that everyone who rents via AirBnB needs to pay taxes and be good neighbors, and that all vacation rentals should be tightly regulated, I fail to understand why the anti-eviction mapping project that supposedly “avoids” collecting data about renters who clearly are not being evicted is an issue.

  35. You might first need an estimate of how many renters would get _caught_ using these services by their landlords. I know a couple people who occasionally rented out their rent-controlled places for a little cash, with no consequence.

    (Somewhat tellingly, the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project intentionally avoids trying to collect stats on this.)

  36. But, I thought the sups in favor of this tout the fact renters can more easily afford to live here if they rent out rooms? Mine would kick me out in a second for breaking the lease. And I can see why they would also be pissed if I earned more than my rent using the space as a hotel.

  37. oh really? I should have known about all this free legal aid before I spent thousands to defend my home.

  38. >”[Chiu] would have been creamed if he ran again for supervisor in my district”

    Thanks for that info!

    Chiu did carry 64% of D3 in his 2014 Assembly Race, btw. But that was back on planet earth…no reason to concern yourself.

  39. I have heard some, including sups say this helps people afford their apartments, enabling them to stay in SF. My landlord would evict me in a second if I rented out my spare room. Does anyone have statistics that show how many renters would be evicted if they used these services? I just don’t buy the notion that landlords would be fine with their renters doing this, and understand why they wouldn’t.

  40. Excuse me, can you please educate me as to the qualifications that Peskin had when he first ran for the BOS?

    I seem to remember that Christensen successfully fought for many neighborhood improvements and was a successful small business owner.

    Meanwhile, Peskin had done nothing except fight to keep the riffraff away from the landed gentry on Telegraph Hill. And in the 8 years of unemployment since he left the BOS? Any clue?

    Oh yeah..he ran the DCCC into the ground and turned it over to a PG&E lobbyist. So yes, he has done something in past 8 years.

    Anyway, we weren’t talking about qualifications for the BOS, we were talking about the stupidity of your theory that she aspires to be a political hack.

  41. I can assure you that, as a longtime D3 resident, Christensen is out of touch with what people in our district want.

    She and her SPUR friends don’t represent residents of D3 – they represent the mayor’s efforts to act upon Ron Conway’s wishes.

  42. Nonsense. Chiu sold out and barely won his election out of SF, even though there was heavy investment from venture capitalists in his ‘anti-Campos’ campaign, and he would have been creamed if he ran again for supervisor in my district.

    We residents of District 3 deserve to be represented and it is shocking to me that Peskin, with all his baggage, has so much support. It shows how much Christensen is out-of-touch.

  43. Except, who believes AirBnB?

    I’m not going to search for you, but AirBnB produced their own ‘glowing’ report on rentals in NYC, and NY’s Attorney General produced another, showing something completely different.

    Some findings:

    “1) One-third of the city’s listings come from hosts who are commercial operators, not everyday, well-meaning residents trying to make a few dollars off a spare room. (Airbnb’s ubiquitous ad campaign focused on the latter.) To be precise, per NYT, “6 percent of the hosts made 37 percent of the revenue—or $168 million.”
    . . .
    3) Even though the majority of units were not rented out for six months of the year or more, a solid 2,000 of them are, which means that there are apartments being used as rentals more or less full time that would otherwise be rented out to lease-signing actual residents. The argument is that it dampens NYC’s already tight housing supply.”

    http://ny.curbed.com/archives/2014/10/16/report_slams_airbnb_says_34_of_all_nyc_listings_are_illegal.php

    AirBnB has been a lousy corporate citizen and they need tight regulation.

  44. the law favors the landlords – always has, always will – and, you have greatly exaggerated the non profit angle;

  45. When Landlords abuse the system, tenants get free legal aid and the service of a number of non-profits funded by local taxes. That’s what then

  46. She has zero experience of the sort that would qualify her to be a supe. That didn’t stop Ed Lee from appointing her. The only experience that matters in these things is cronyism. So it is with political positions, and so it is with getting a job as a corporate hack. Her loyalty will be richly rewarded after she loses.

  47. She has zero experience as a lobbyist or PR person and a short, failed run in the BOS would do nothing to build her resume in that area. What you’re saying is totally groundless and obviously uninformed.

  48. I can assure you, as a D3 resident who has seen Julie working tirelessly on the renovation of Pioneer Park, North Beach Pool, Joe DiMaggio Playground, North Beach Library, planting hundreds of trees, etc., that she is all in for the neighborhood. She had, and could easily go back to, the highly-successful design business she gave up to become a supe. What you’re saying is groundless and uninformed.

  49. From the SF Chronicle: “Wrede Petersmeyer, who oversees Airbnb analytics, flew out from New York, to discuss the company’s data and defend its model. Most entire units in San Francisco are rented out fewer than 30 days a year, he said, while only 10 percent of hosts rent out a space where they do not live. Entire units were booked an average of 65 nights over the 12 months ended July 5, with a median stay of 29 nights, Airbnb said.”

    This seems to support the supes assertions that this is not as big a problem as it’s being made out to be, and that local regulation, if done correctly, would be pretty effective. Look at how well rent control and building inspection regulations work — a few egregious violators slip through the authorities’ grasp, but most building owners comply because the penalties are so stiff.

  50. Fortunately Peskin is running against her. Peskin does not delude himself with the notion that mere good intent is sufficient to deliver the outcomes. Aaron hustles to out-hustle the hustlers.

    As far as the short term rentals ballot measure goes, when was the last time that Calvin Welch won a contested election since Prop M in the 1980s?

    I saw that MEDA’s Granados was fluxomed that Wiener voted against 24th Street consolidation controls.

    Now Welch is stunned that corporate hacks are following through on their promise to eradicate progressives.

    What will it take to replace these Granados’ and Welchs’ who have come to be blinded by their own bullshit with more clear eyed Peskins?

  51. Surely it makes sense that she would follow Chiu’s lead, since she replaced him. The wishes of that district haven’t changed, so why should that district’s supervisor?

    Chiu was often the swing vote and now Julie is. i’d be more worried if she was radically different from Chiu. D3’s residents deserve consistency if nothing else

  52. All of Campos’ faux ire seems to be directed at property owners. He ignores the loss and hardship caused to property owners when their tenants abuse the system.

  53. Gee, I wonder if Julie is getting money from any of the folks that benefit from her amendments? I wonder if she is representing her districts’s residents?

    “Donor names so far include:
    SF Chamber of Commerce CEO Bob Linscheid
    Manager, Public Policy, Community, and Government Affairs at Google and one-time wannabe Supe Rebecca Prozan
    Former Zynga CEO Don Mattrick
    Ed Lee BFF and tech investor Ron Conway
    Four of Conway’s family members, who apparently also got the Christensen spirit(?)
    Yahoo CEO/’Remixer” Marissa Mayer
    Silicon Valley VC Peter Fenton
    Napster co-founder, Facebook guy, and ostentatious Redwood wedding holder Sean Parker
    Twitter, Medium, and oh ha ha remember Jelly co-founder Biz Stone”

    http://sfist.com/2015/04/24/big_names_throw_their_weight_behind.php

  54. Should be fairly easy to tell when a landlord is renting out an STR that isn’t his own home – cross-check the Tax Collector’s Home Owners exemption with the STR license. Admittedly a bit harder to do when its a tenant pulling this schtick. And, btw, what check is there that a tenant isn’t breaking the lay by making more money than they’re paying in rent?

  55. Well Julie Christensen is definitely running for a job, except it’s not the one that people think. I think that at this point she doesn’t expect to actually win. Appointed supes are rarely good fits for the neighborhood anyway, and this one is particularly tone deaf. I think she realizes Peskin will mop the floor with her, and she’s just angling for a high paid gig for one of these tech companies, maybe as a lobbyist or PR person.

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