Community-based journalists also raising Airbnb's issues in SF


Mainstream media outlets in San Francisco may be slow to pick up on how Airbnb and other online home rental companies are violating local laws and dodging local taxes — the subject of our cover story this week — but both international and community-based journalists are paying attention to this growing problem.

The excellent bilingual newspaper El Tecolote covered some of the same ground we did in its cover story this week, “Unregulated Rental Business Takes Over Housing,” focused on how Airbnb is contributing to gentrification and displacement in the Mission District.

Reporter Jackson Ly found a couple that turned a rent-controlled apartment on 24th St. into a $249 per month de facto hotel room, booking it for 24 nights in August and making $5,976 in just one month, on top of the $3,069 they’re making in August renting out the guest room in the apartment where they actually live for $99 per night.

“It’s cheating the people that pay taxes,” Maria, who lives in the unit below this couple’s investment apartment and is tired of the rotating stream of tourists in her building, told the newspaper.

I got ahold of El Tecolote Managing Editor Iñaki Fdez. de Retana, who told me, “it seems like we’re on the same page,” noting the Guardian has also recently written about the prison hunger strike and some other issues that his paper has covered.

He said that housing issues like this one are extremely important to the Latino community that lives in the Mission, and he’s been surprised that Mayor Ed Lee has been unwilling to address the impacts of Airbnb and other tech community contributors to the problem.

“It is very important,” he told us, noting that visiting European tourists are changing the character of the neighborhood. “In particular on 24th Street, which was once seen as the heart of the Mission, it’s changing overnight and [Airbnb and other housing rental websites] is a big part of that.

Meanwhile, we’re still waiting for a substantive response from Airbnb to the issues that we and a handful of other journalists are raising. CEO Brian Chesky, who was an amateur competitive bodybuilder before founding Airbnb in 2008, would apparently rather flex his muscles than deal directly with the community where his company is based.


Airbnb is a ripoff, I have stayed at 2 converted garages, which I called building and safety code enforcement , a host cannot collect money for illegal garage units, and Airbnb keeps your money and gives it to the host that is doing this illegal garage rentals. Airbnb only cares about taking people money and fees. If you read the contract everything else is your problem, wacky contract. Wacky company, host are only doing it to make money so they don't need to work. I have had it with Airbnb , worst company ever! I'm going to report them to the better business bureau and collect my money back from these illegal converted garages.

Another host posted all different pictures of her place and address when I booked and recvd the address it was completely different from the house she was showing and dog poop all over the backyard. Every occasion I have called Airbnb , they tell me that people rent out all kinds of places, all they want is their money and fee.

I will never use Airbnb again! Worst company ever! I have so many horrible stories using Airbnb that I can write a book. Beware especially in Los Angeles, it's becoming another Craigslist.

Posted by Guest Kim on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 3:45 pm

Airbnb Is not a rip off,
in fact , before you are able to rent the space, you get to see the room
on the website and if the Host has lied about the room, you get a refund

in fact, I don't think that your post is even legitimate

and the entire story is a hoax .

a Few people that host and are misleading are not what airbnb is about

As far as the rent controlled apartment issue,
they shouldn't be doing that

In fact , even the stories numbers seem wrong

Posted by GuestSammy on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 9:31 pm

and as a Guest. Shareable housing is modern, easy and clearly meets the needs of thousands. Indeed, if it were not a success, why would all these killjoys like Steven (who used it himself) be so obsessed with it?

It's called progress. Embrace it. You're "progressive", right?

Posted by Guest on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 11:10 pm

What if it means destroying long-standing communities through illegal practices, exacerbating trends that are already impoverishing hard-working families that have lived in their neighborhood for generations (or forcing them to leave their home city where they work), cheats the honest tax-payers of the city out of tens of millions in revenue annually, and/or radically changes the character of a neighborhood with a strong ethnic identity & decades of community ties?

What if other people's illegal rentals turn your home building into a playground for a revolving cast of assorted over-privileged, entitled narcissistic strangers, who invade your home city on very short term bases until they crash & burn, disrespect the very city that is providing them opportunities for obscene incomes for people under 30, drive up rental prices further in the most expensive city to rent in nation-wide, don't contribute to major tax bases (particularly compared to less privilege workers), get trashed at 6 or 7pm, and then wander a traditionally Latino neighborhood in a city noted for its tolerance of homosexuality for 150 years, drunkenly shouting racist & homophobic slurs?

Anyway, in political economy & taxation, "progressive" means that one's social financial responsibilities increase the greater one's income, assets, and wealth, whereas "regressive" means that that one's relative social financial responsibility increase the lower your income, assets, and wealth.

Of course, you're referring to technological progress. There are a plethora of ways that any individual technological innovation can be implemented based on one's degree of concern for the social repercussions & legal considerations of doing business, from the legal to the illegal, from rapacious avaricious in pursuit of profits regardless of laws or negative social impact, to the legal & socially responsible practice of business where laws are complied with & negative social impacts are minimized or eliminated to the maximum extent possible, to the complete abandonment of the need for profit in favor on focusing on the public good. Let's say that you develop an HIV/AIDS vaccine or treatment that causes 100% remission, there are a variety of ways to distribute it:
1) Keep it as expensive as possible for as long as possible, delaying a generic version to maximize profit, even as tens of millions of new people become infected, degenerate, or die.
2) Keep it under patent, but reasonably affordable, and charitably donate supplies to hot zones that can't afford the price under patent, to slow its spread, extend lives long enough until it goes generic, prevent the spread to new people, to reduce your taxes, and to protect public health.
3) Pass the formula immediately into the public domain, to be distributed by governments & NGOs close to the cost of production, or for free, to eliminate a long-standing global pandemic.

Airbnb's model is damaging to San Francisco's long-term public good, landlords, tenants, and permanent residents. Given that their operations in SF are based on systemic violation of numerous laws & codes, they deserve zero sympathy, understanding, and hospitality by the people and City, unless they get into compliance, and stop acting above the law.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 17, 2013 @ 4:02 am

The irony of complaining about "illegal" acts --- renting a room to a visitor --- "destroying" communities that are mostly illegal aliens who have no right to even be in this country.

Only in San Francisco.

Posted by Quake Can't Come Soon Enough on Aug. 20, 2013 @ 1:24 am

I've been to the mission.. What about the drugs and hookers on the street? Seems one of the local traditions. Are you doing anything to change that?
What is so horrible about bringing tourists in while bringing more money in that spent in the community? How many of those tourists are spending money at the local stores and bars? It doesn't have to be a bad thing

Posted by Guest on Mar. 30, 2014 @ 3:22 pm

Sounds like a horrible experience Kim, too bad. I've rented out my place in the Gold country through them and it was good, but pretty easy. They need to spend the extra money to rate their clients before they become their clients. I have heard lots of horror stories with AirBnB which is too bad, they have a great idea, but if they really just care about the money and not their customers that is not good.

I hope you used sites like Yelp and the AirBnB rating system to rate the Company and any clients that lie about their locations. That is uncalled for and should be dealt with swiftly and strongly by the company (AirBnB).

Unfortunately the Internet is filled with these types of companies, those that just don't care!! You used the term above - "Wacky", You said, "If you read the contract everything else is your problem, wacky contract. Wacky company.", this is very true, but for a lot more than just AirBnB. Have you read any other company's online info? If you look at most of the major online companies that can afford to bring in customers by the Millions (Ebay, FB, Google, Craigslist,, Travelocity, Orbitz, Linkedin, Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, NYTimes, Washington Post, SFGate, and so many more) have you looked at or read their User Policies, Terms of Use, etc.? You want to see Wacky, take the time to read them. Everything is so one-sided on the web, that is pretty typical. I fully agree with you, IT IS VERY WACKY!!!!

One of the largest Domain management and hosting companies in the biz has many, many lawsuits against it, Go Daddy, again, another Wacky agreement, but regardless of it being so one-sided, the business practices of a company can still be challenged regardless, you just have to have a good lawyer and a lot of money to pay him or her, or find one that would do it on contingency. Most of these companies I'm sure have teams of lawyers just itching to jump into court with their clients customers.

Good luck

Posted by Nolan A on Aug. 10, 2013 @ 10:23 pm

AirBnB does what it claims to do - put hosts and guests together in the same way that has been done informally for decades. I can remember home-swapping and time-sharing companies being in existence thirty years ago - it's just that the internet now makes it slicker.

There's always going to be the odd problem here and there, but to listen to those here who fear the shared economy revolution, you'd think that invalidates the entire concept.

Nothing is devoid of risk but a few simple precautions minimize the risk and maximize the reward. There is always resistance to new ideas, and especially those that threaten long-standing special interest groups. But the shared economy is here to stay, and some grumbling by those who are resistant to change will not arrest such a forceful and dynamic co-operative movement.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 10, 2013 @ 10:46 pm

Ohh please!! Do you know how hard its to get a refund from Airbnb???? We asked that after experiencing a horribole experience. The place was a nest for rats and what Airbnb has done is basically say "Here is the owner;'s phone number, deal with her, we already gave her the money", ohh, and " we can't give you our fees because our team work and we have to pay them" So... in the past when i have been lucky and got really good hosts and guests, was ok, now they did not stand for me and my basic rights... it is not!

Posted by Guest on Sep. 16, 2013 @ 2:10 pm

Maybe it has something to do with your attitude?

Posted by Guest on Sep. 16, 2013 @ 3:03 pm

Beware of this nasty website, whether you are a host or a guest, you will be ripped off one way or another.

Stay as far far far away as you can !

Don't kid yourself, looks good, sounds good until you need help !

They follow nasty policies .... Be warned !

I lost over $2500 and they don't give a damn !

Posted by Guest on Sep. 17, 2013 @ 7:21 am

make thousands.

Maybe it's your attitude that causes problems?

Posted by Guest on Sep. 17, 2013 @ 7:27 am

Maybe its your attitude @$$#0!&

Posted by Guest on Oct. 15, 2013 @ 7:31 pm

You should try giving for a change instead of taking.

Posted by anon on Oct. 15, 2013 @ 7:53 pm

Giving by taking!

Posted by anon on Oct. 15, 2013 @ 8:02 pm

How is any of this an AirBNB issue?

A few days ago there was a tragedy when a man drove his car at people in Venice Beach. Was that a 'Dodge Avenger' issue? Should we outlaw Dodge cars now?

If some property owner or lessee wants to play in a gray area or exploit a loophole to make some extra money they have a number of ways to find potential tenants besides AirBNB. There is no shortage of advertising channels out there. Does eBay and craigslist make sure that every seller on their services has followed the letter of the law?, they don't.

The title of this article is "Community-based journalists also raising Airbnb's issues in SF" and then at the end Steven notes that AirBNB isn't responsive to his questions; they don't want to :"deal directly with the community where his company is based".

Actually, I'm sure that they do. But it is astounding that Steven can claim that he represents the community where AirBNB is based w. Amazing.

Posted by Troll on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 3:50 pm

What you say has nothing to do with how Airbnb runs their business for host not to work and sit on their ass to rent out rooms and I would not consider them host, guest should not have to be renting illegal garage units in single family homes, they should not be on Airbnb to begin with.

If you read other articles, maybe you would get a better idea or in fact read articles from their former employees.

Posted by Guest Kim on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 7:31 pm

Used Airbnb ended in to converted garages, called code enforcement , both in violation. Airbnb would not refund my money for nights spent there or their fees.

I'm calling the better business bureau and will never use Airbnb again.

Booked another listing in Los Angeles , all the pictures and location where incorrect, again called Airbnb , I got again stuck with the Airbnb fees and nights spent there for idiots posting fraudulent pictures.

Host are only doing this for money, while they sit on their ass all day, go get hair and nails done and collect guest money. What a joke Airbnb is!!

Posted by Guest Kim on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 3:52 pm

But most of us love AirBnB.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 11:11 pm

Most San Franciscans can't afford Airbnb, let alone the escalating cost of rent here, inability to relocate with the already shrinking supply of apartments that such services take off the housing market, hosts & Airbnb shirking massive tax obligations, and the hubris of operating in SF in such a blatantly illegal fashion.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 17, 2013 @ 4:23 am

The one example provided in the article is of a couple that apparently has 2 rent controlled apartments and they are using one of them as a quasi hotel. Which can cause them to lose rent control on the apartment that is not their principle residence. That is already the law.

So, rather than go off on AirBNB, which was not essential to the transaction, maybe someone should just ask the landlord why he/she is allowing tenants to flagrantly violate the existing principle residence requirement.

If you look at the article it is about activity at the BOS to regulate this relatively new activity. Which is fine, but in the meantime AirBNB isn't doing anything improper and in fact, is doing a lot of good things. More power to them.

I'm more concerned about illegal acts of prostitution. Which I guess is an 'SFBG' issue since a lot of it is facilitated by the Bay Guardian.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 4:53 pm

any of their rented properties are being offered there. If so, they should immediately issue a 3-day notice to evict and show zero tolerance.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 11:12 pm

I own a home in a semi rural area with a seasonal economy. It can be hard to find good tenants. We keep the rent low so that we can attract a wider range of applicant. We work our butts off to maintain the house and don't make any profit, but the house has steadily improved as we've owned it. I was totally taken aback to discover my tenants offering it on airbnb. They seem totally clueless that it's in violation of their lease, and perhaps nobody reads airbnb't terms of service before renting which states you cannot be breaking a lease to list your space, and you cannot list a place you are renting. In fact the company is based on that very idea so ......They would do themselves and people like Nigel Warren in NY who was fined 2400.00 plus legal fees a big favor if they were just clear about this, but hey its in the fine print and their company is growing. Im pretty stunned that I even found the add and relieved that they hadn't had any guests show up. They were fine about taking the add down but said they'd love to talk to me about how awesome airbnb is. Awesome! Airbnb responded within 48 hours via email to say: you are free to remind them that renting on Airbnb requires hosts to have the legal right to rent out their space. Now I'm left in an awkward situation wondering if these folks who live right next door we just hopeful and blinded by the potential to earn 2-3 grand off our space, or if they were going to outright lie to me. The told me before moving in they liked the space because they had space for guest, but not that these guest would be paying.

Posted by Landlord/Geust on Aug. 09, 2013 @ 4:20 am

want the hassle, risk and low profits of being a regular landlord, and prefer to have short-term guests, who often will pay more and are more interesting and polite people, often from overseas.

I doubt that AirBnB envisaged that tenants would violate their leases and cheat their landlords by using this service, and their site clearly wants tenants to check the "no sublet" clause of their lease.

In fact, another argument for owners to rent via AirBnB is to prevent tenants doing the very same thing with your profit and taking the profit that you should be making!

Posted by Guest on Aug. 09, 2013 @ 4:51 am

It's funny you say that because that's how I found out they were offering my home for rent: I was thinking of letting a room in my own house and wanted to see if there was any competition in the neighborhood. I just didn't geuss it'd be RIGHT next door! I have to argue that Airbnb was founded on this very act: renting out an apt. your leasing. That is the founders story of how the business began. Airbnb is now actively lobbying (from what I've read) to change laws that effect both renters and owners so that this "shared (for profit) economy" can thrive. the case of Nigel Warren which I reread was actually an action taken against Nigel's landlord. It was originally a fine for 40g... Airbnb actually showed up at this mans trial with lawyers so it seems they are now actively lobbying to shift law in favor of their business. In my case Ive run numbers and would not be to my benefit to offer for short term rent. I'm way happier with tenants (the more boring the better) who will happily enjoy all we've worked hard to provide year round without me hustlin my identity online all the time.

Posted by Landlord/Geust on Aug. 09, 2013 @ 11:39 am

Woke up very early on Tuesday and turned to MSNBC's "Morning Joe", which featured an interview with Brian Chesky, a co-founder of airbnb. Mr. Chesky characterized his sharing economy business as merely a bunch of post-college kids looking for a way to make a few more bucks to pay their high San Francisco monthly rent . I wanted to throw my TV remote through the television I was so disgusted. The problem with these news organizations always comes down to geography. The farther away the subject matter is, the easier it is to swallow the B.S. San Francisco is drowning in unregulated businesses, including but not limited to start up car services. I have no problem with people coming up with great ideas that give consumers a real choice. But these new choices more often than not skirt local and state laws and regulations governing business operations. Competition is great, but it needs to also be fair, which airbnb is not. Nor is it the best way to handle vacation accommodations. One of the MSNBC correspondent recounted her recent experience using airbnb in Budapest, telling hosts Mika and Joe that she had trouble finding the key to the apartment she had rented. While emphasizing that the experience wasn't bad, the correspondent had a very queasy look on her face, like she wanted to tell more but wasn't allowed to by the network.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 5:55 pm

ordinary people doing nothing more than sharing their home can get into trouble for it. I see this as a non-issue - let people do this in an informal, relaxed way, No harm is done - in fact this brings money into SF.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 11:13 pm

As long as they pay their taxes, I'm cool with it. If the city asks for a hotel tax, they should just pony up and quit whining.

Personally I'd never use them though. It sounds like a pretty shady company from all the horror stories. But what do you expect? If a company is going to operate in a gray area of the law in one respect (not paying taxes), why am I not surprised that they'll do the same in other areas (monitoring accommodations)?

Posted by Greg on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 11:50 pm

that we see nothing from SFBG saying that the hosts, many of whom are tenants, should pay it. Only that AirBnB should pay the taxes.

Now, I booked a hotel thru an intermediary a few weeks ago - the hotel charged me for the room and the tax - not the intermediary. This makes sense - the guest pays it to the host who then accumulates all the tax due and pays it to the taxman.

The intermediary shouldn't be on the hook for that and, if AirBnB were domiciled overseas, there would be no way to collect from them anyway.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 08, 2013 @ 5:15 am

I actually went through the 8 page article.

I got the impression that Steven tried pretty had to get someone (either David Chiu or Cisneros or even a RE broker) to say that it is up to AirBNB to pay the tax, as opposed to the host.

He couldn't get anyone to say what he wanted except for maybe one tenant advocate who doesn't like AirBNB. The actual article very much soft pedaled the concept that AirBNB was shirking taxes and the hosts were not at all responsible. AirBNB is in the loop but the wide consensus is that the party that is providing the hotel substitute is the one who would pay any hotel tax.

But I don't think that any judge ever said that ANYONE should pay the hotel tax. Of course city officials want the money but the legal issue has not been settled.

But hey, reality is one thing and Steven's logic is another.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 08, 2013 @ 9:57 am

That's why he rants endlessly about AirBnB (based in SF, some vague connection to the Mayor) but bearly mentions their competitors who, of course, are way beyond SF's jurisdiction anyway.

It makes no sense for AirBnB to pay a tax when it is the host making all the money. That host can charge it to the Guest if they wish, and that's fine. but of course Steven doesn't want the tenants to pay the tax because then their landlord will know they are violating their lease and can be evicted.


Posted by Guest on Aug. 08, 2013 @ 10:03 am

EXACTLY! The TU high-minded rationals are crap. They want to keep their rent controlled apts with the rest of the "creative class" - a term they made up for themselves since they are hardly working class or otherwise a group who meets the idea of whom rent control was to be for. Now they feel entitled to even make money on their apartments so keep up the the rhetoric of the greedy landlords ... what a joke (of course, some are but). these want not only less rent because they were here first (forget if they work in the city or what they make) and they now see a way to not work at the further burden of the landlord. "hmmm... how can we pull this off" they wonder? talk about what is fair, this is not.

Posted by ray on Aug. 14, 2013 @ 3:53 am

Even if the host is responsible for paying taxes, any business has an obligation to do their due diligence to ensure they are not facilitating criminal activity with the listing they offer and take a commission on.

Such sense of entitlement to blatantly flout the law is disgusting.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 17, 2013 @ 4:30 am

Hotel taxes are paid by the guest - that means YOU, not the host. Are you ready to "pony up" now?

Posted by Guest on Aug. 08, 2013 @ 10:17 pm

billed for it. And collected by the host. If an intermediary helped out those two parties together, it is far from clear that they have any liability to pay any tax - it's essentially a matter between the host and the guest.

There is a further question mark over whether a hotel tax applies to a casual home-share arrangement, and I do not believe a court has ruled that to be so.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 08, 2013 @ 10:51 pm

an exchange of money for a good or service. These loophole seeking companies do a disservice to people who actually share with others, like the good people of Food Not Bombs and Curry Without Worry, by distorting the meaning of words and monetizing and commercializing human cooperation.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 09, 2013 @ 6:43 am

The good people of Food not Bombs would be better if they told transients to get jobs and clean themselves up instead of encouraging dependency and squalor

Posted by Guest on Aug. 09, 2013 @ 7:05 am
Posted by Guest on Aug. 09, 2013 @ 7:09 am

These social problems didn't exist before people who actually give a shit tried to address them.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 09, 2013 @ 7:29 am

They've only gotten worse thanks to do-gooders.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 09, 2013 @ 7:39 am

Completely unfamiliar with US history from the Restoration through the Gilded Age to the end of the Depression with WW2, clearly, or the history of the British Empire, or Roman antiquity.

The New Deal was passed because things got so bad, social welfare programs were necessary concessions to protect American market capitalism from giving the Socialist Party, militantly organized liberal & socialist AFL unions, communist CIO unions, and "armies of the unemployed" more fodder for effective organizing.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 17, 2013 @ 5:12 am

food sharings as a resource are elderly or disabled. The trollocracy is always pushing volunteerism (especially by their elite economic betters whose asses they always kiss) as its antidote to government based social service programs.

But this comment lays bare their lack of compassion when such non-governmental volunteerism helps groups they despise. That is, the poor, the elderly, the disabled, the unemployed or underemployed. In other words, anyone not like themselves or what they fear they might become.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 09, 2013 @ 7:26 am

poor. That said I do thing that some middle-class do-gooders who volunteer just so it looks good on the resume end up doing more harm than good.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 09, 2013 @ 7:45 am

No employer cares about volunteering on a resume. The fact that you frame doing good as a prima facia bad thing says alot about your lack of compassion.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 17, 2013 @ 5:17 am

The hypocrisy of the trolls is just staggering. Making money through shady business schemes is called "sharing," while real compassionate care for those who need it is denigrated. What a disgusting, perverted mentality.

Posted by Greg on Aug. 09, 2013 @ 8:16 am

San Francisco gives $400 million annually to unaccountable, politically-connected non-profits, but our problems only grow. Why?

Posted by Guest on Aug. 09, 2013 @ 8:26 am

Lower taxes, less regulations and a more business-friendly administration creates jobs, and it is only through work that the poor can be saved.

Throwing money and trinkets at that merely creates a culture of entitlement and dependency.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 09, 2013 @ 8:44 am

have jobs. Try again, Mr. Galt.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 09, 2013 @ 9:45 am

But yes, the problem for some folks isn't that they don't have a job but rather that they cannot command a good job.

All the more argument to enact pro-jobs, pro-business policies to give them a chance.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 09, 2013 @ 9:51 am

There is a specific formula used in the US to determine the poverty line, which is significantly below a living wage in most of the country. Under $20k is a good indicator, depending on cost of living in the region, double that in SF, NY, or Boston.

How much do you get paid to spam SFBG's comments, out of curiosity? Trolling seems like an easy job, and I could use a legal way to increase my income.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 17, 2013 @ 5:39 am

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