Airbnb Hosts Stage Backyard Rally in Bernal Heights


In addition to the counter-protest at Planned Parenthood, there was another demonstration event in Bernal Heights yesterday, but this second action was taken by neighbors who generate income by renting out space in their homes for vacation rentals. They call themselves Fair to Share San Francisco, and the Examiner tells the story:

It helped Marcia Weisbrut get on her feet after cancer. It paid for Rodolfo Cancino’s dental bills. It has allowed [Bernal resident] Greg De Meza to start paying off debts incurred during the recession.

The common thread in all their stories was the short term rental service provided by Airbnb, which is illegal in San Francisco.

The testimonials — some voiced over a P.A. system — were on display in a Bernal Heights backyard Thursday by groups launching the Fair to Share San Francisco campaign. The campaign’s aim is simple: Legalize the money-making short term rentals that Airbnb’s business model is built upon.

On hand to make their case were a collection of short-term rental hosts, representatives of Airbnb and Peers, a “sharing economy” advocate.

The push comes amidst efforts by local leaders to solve or at least ameliorate a severe housing shortage combined with steep rents, which some Airbnb opponents have linked to the company, among others.

Into that fray, the campaign aims to back legislation like Board of Supervisors President David’s Chiu’s proposal to regulate and legalize short term rentals.

The Examiner explains that Fair to Share has received substantial support from Airbnb — including the group’s basic organizational push, recruitment, brochures, and even the PA system used at the Bernal event. That’s not a bad thing — Airbnb and its hosts are a legitimate interest group with an interest in the City’s political process — but it is important to note.

In the article, Neighbor Emily, who launched the rather clever Airbnb concierge service we’ve told you about before, argued for the stabilizing effect that vacation rentals can have on San Francisco neighborhoods:

Emily Benkert, a 17-year city resident who rents out rooms in her Bernal Heights home and has started a business that helps people run their Airbnb rentals, said the service is not a detriment to The City. “This isn’t hurting anybody,” she said. “We’re not kicking people into the street.”

Instead, she argues, Airbnb’s absence would force people to leave San Francisco since the extra income they make is what allows them to stay.

PHOTO: Bernal neighbor Greg De Meza, by Mike Koozmin, SF Examiner

21 thoughts on “Airbnb Hosts Stage Backyard Rally in Bernal Heights

  1. Actually AirBNB hurts renters. Especially renters at the lower end of the market who want small studios or 1 bedrooms.
    The math is simple. AirBNB has caused owners to take potential rental properties off the market and list them permanently on AirBNB. In cities like San Francisco and New York this has almost reached a crisis point.
    This is more of an issue in other cities like new york, but imagine you live in a large building and your neighbor is renting out their apartment 24/7 on AirBNB. This causes security issues in your building and concerns of civil disobedience from the pack of kids on spring break up til 4am having a party on a Tuesday night while your baby is trying to sleep.

    • Fair points.

      FWIW, I feel like I’m encountering a growing number of homeowners with living space to let who are unwilling to put their available space into the traditional rental market. The folks I’ve encountered are homeowners with in-law-type units in the home they themselves own and occupy. The reason cited is always the same: They don’t want to deal with the inflexibility created by rent control and tenant protection laws. The sentiment is basically, “I don’t want to end up in a situation I can’t get get out of.” They say the money would be nice, but in the end it’s just not worth it.

      Of the examples of this I’ve heard recently, not all involve Airbnb or VRBO and the like. In fact, the majority do not, I’d say. More common, among the people I’ve heard from at least, are short-term rental arrangements (a few months at a time) to visiting professionals, people doing internships, friends (or friends of friends) or family who need a place to stay for a few months.

      The (not particularly insightful) conclusion I take from this is that there is probably a lot of potential housing inventory in the City that is not being made available because people simply do not want to be traditional landlords. Conversely, the current regulatory structures appear to have nontrivial, negative impacts in terms of maximizing potential housing inventory in SF. I know we all probably know this, but I feel like I’m seeing a lot of that lately. Put another way, Airbnb isn’t so much the cause of this, perhaps, as much as a potential beneficiary.

      • I appreciate your last line. We’ve used Airbnb to rent out our place when we’re out of town for work or on vacation, generally to other people who are coming to SF for vacation themselves. If it wasn’t Airbnb, we’d be doing this via Craigslist, or word of mouth through friends of friends, or what have you. People like us aren’t the focus of the bigger discussions about housing markets and short term rentals–what we do isn’t replacing housing so much as hotels–but we have been accused of shorting the city’s hotel taxes. We’d be committing the same oversight no matter what vehicle we use to rent out our space while we’re out of town.

        We also used Airbnb to stay in the neighborhood (with a couple of awesome neighbors) before we bought our house. We still credit that experience with making us really fall in love with 94110.

      • If you’re talking about SFH, then rent control doesn’t apply. If that’s the concern of your erstwhile landlord friends then the concern is unfounded.

      • The law says that if you rent a space over 30 days, it’s subject to rent control/tenants rights (provided the building was constructed prior to 1979). Chances are your friends are not going to give you trouble but legally they’d have the right to.

    • One can make the argument(a strong one) that because of the city’s overly pro tenant anti landlord regulations that some property owners would be crazy to rent their places under the current and even worse possible future laws of SF. Some of the pieces of legislation that have been proposed would have property owners shelling out HUNDREDS of thousands of dollars to tenants. Take away the ever evolving and anti owner laws of SF and ask a property owner would they rather lock in long term revenue with someone they have vetted and approved vs the variable and unpredictable income of putting the property on Airbnb(which takes a massive commission btw), and I would speculate that 9 out of 10 times they take the long term renter.

      • Do you mean “anti-landlord” when you say “anti-owner”? I can imagine people being freaked out by having to abide by laws that address tenants and tenancy, but I can’t imagine any statute that’s around now that discourages people from buying a house in the city. We bought our place just under a year ago and didn’t encounter anything that made us feel like buying was a bad idea (on the contrary, our mortgage is like two hundred bucks less than our previous rent was).

      • @JK Sorry, I said anti landlord in the begin and should have kept that language. I agree with your comment.

    • I have an In Law unit that I use when my family comes to town. I am not going to rent it to a renter because I need it for my friends & family as a guest room. That room sits empty for a lot of the year, so why shouldn’t I make some money to help pay for the years of deferred maintenance my home has accrued by the previous owners? I agree that it’s too bad that some landlords are abusing AirBNB, but there are many people that are using it responsibly and for its intended purpose.

      Now, with all that said, even if I could rent my unit to a full time renter (which I can’t because I need a guest room) I probably wouldn’t because of the tenant laws in San Francisco that make it nearly impossible to get a deadbeat tenant evicted. If I felt like I had more rights as a home owner when it came to dealing with bad renters it might be a different story. As it is, the risks far outweigh the benefits of having a full time tenant.

  2. I dunno… this is a gold rush town, always was. People spin their moral and ethical wishes around every freakin issue, but in end, underneath all the glitter, it’s just the gold.

  3. A well considered ceiling on the number of days rented per year would address the misuse of a residential property as a de facto hotel and allow the incidental uses described by advocates above.

  4. BUT THE FACT of the matter is that these folks are running HOTELS in residences not licensed as hotels. Some homes are permanently rented out as hotels. This is PLAIN WRONG. Forget the wimpy response, “But, it’s is MY home and I can do what I want with it” because it’s not true. As soon as someone hooks up with AirBNB they are running a BUSINESS and are subject to LAWS regarding business.

    Sure, in the article, they’ll bring up cancer and dental work and whatnot, but this does NOT excuse the fact that what they’re doing is illegal.

    I say NAIL THEM TO THE WALL — they’re violating the LAW, plain and simple.

      • They ain’t his capital letters. They belong to all of us so that we might share a common written language. As any typographically inclined amigo would know, we got a few ways of drawing emphasis to key words or phrases on a flat sheet o paper or screen – we got position, color, size, style…maybe we call all caps a style for now… so, placing a word or phrase in all capitals when the surrounding words ain’t, or making the word pink when the others ain’t, is just a way of placing emphasis.

        It’s not so hard to figger out, Paul.

        Now what is with you and your possessives?

      • In the Examiner article, one of the rally participants indicated that she rents out a room via Airbnb in her rent controlled apartment. She better hope for her sake that she has something in writing from her landlord that indicates this is okay because that very well may be a violation of her lease and could lead to an eviction.

  5. So maybe the laws should be changed to allow some, regulated use of under-utilized spaces. I am curious if legalizing this type of supply would, in fact, make a significant dent in another kind of more permanent supply. If there is substantial evidence that we cannot write the law in such a way to encourage the expansion of hotel-like supply and not reduce the rental supply, then I’d be for it.

    However, I am sensitive to the removal of rental stock, since, well, Supply and Demand hawk that I am, I don’t want to see things happen that tighten real estate supply.

  6. I’m soon to rent out a bedroom in my own home with AirBnB. I don’t want a permanent roommate and the income would help pay for my son’s college tuition. How can this be illegal?

  7. Interesting to note this “rally” was just covered in Valley Wag, which points out an interesting tidbit not mentioned here regarding the Fair to Share group behind the event: “the lobbying platform is owned by Airbnb, and it’s being used to push the city’s legislation to be even more favorable towards the company.”

    I believe AirBnB has a place in most cities, but when a city bends to meet them halfway and they the company demands a mile for that inch, they lose a lot of respect as good corporate citizens in my eyes.

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