Like thousands of others in San Francisco, Jeffrey Katz has rented out his apartment on Airbnb. The popular booking site lets tourists find a cheaper place to stay and hosts earn some extra income. That certainly helps in San Francisco, the city with the highest median rent rate in the nation. But earlier this month, Katz found a nasty surprise on his door: an eviction notice.
“If the eviction goes through, I will have to move out of the city. That would break my heart,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle. Katz has found an attorney to take his case, though litigation can cost as much as $15,000, just to get to trial.
Under San Francisco law, “tourist or transit use” of a residential unit, i.e., renting out a home for less than 30 days, is “unlawful.” Renters can also obtain a conditional use permit, though as the Chronicle points out, that involves “an expensive and cumbersome process that virtually everyone ignores.”
As the attorney who filed the notice against Katz put it, “It’s obviously not the same moral culpability as running a house of prostitution or manufacturing methamphetamines, but any illegal use is grounds for eviction.”
The City Planning Department is now investigating around 85 people for using short-term rental sites. Those facing eviction usually only have 72 hours to comply. Like Katz, Lisa Weitekamp and Chad Selph received an eviction notice for hosting Airbnb users for just three nights last October. Fortunately, for these two, after they explained their situation to their landlord and promised to stop hosting, the eviction was dropped.
Airbnb has updated its terms of service, warning (in all caps) “HOSTS SHOULD REVIEW LOCAL LAWS BEFORE LISTING A SPACE ON AIRBNB.” In addition, the terms also tell users to check their leases to make sure short-term rentals are in compliance.
Supervisor David Chiu has proposed legislation that would make it more difficult to evict tenants who host on sites like Airbnb. These new rules would also legalize short-term rentals in San Francisco, but only if hosts pay the city’s 14 percent hotel tax rate, hold liability insurance and register with the city every two years.
— Nick Sibilla
Nick Sibilla is a writer at the Institute for Justice