San Francisco tenants are dealing with the city’s growing pains while landlords profit from a poor supply of housing in a rich supply of salaried tech workers. For much of that struggle, tenants have accused tech workers who are generally part of the demand, not the supply.
There have been a lot of press coverage that have told the tech side of the struggle and some tech workers have even been quick to come to the aid of those in need of housing. It’s a sad predicament but for voters, law makers, politicians, this is a more complex problem than just taxes and eviction laws since landlords have been skewing elections in order to reduce housing since that increases real estate value.
For the first time, however, the city is suing a handful of landlords for wrongful evictions that is related to a technology company – AirBnB. The city’s laws protect tenants from evictions and once an eviction has taken place, a commercial use cannot replace the residential use for reasons that have to do with the current housing shortage and even old zoning laws. The later protects neighbors when a hotel wants to move in after their property has been purchased.
While AirBnB does not operate as a hotel, it has known problems and its problems usually manifest in problems for neighbors. Using AirBnB rentals for house parties and even sex parties should surprise no one, especially AirBnB, but when landlords are evicting handicapped tenants, it makes AirBnB users look particularly negligent in the eyes of residents who have already held regular protests against Google Buses.
Even if the city sues a handful of negligent landlords, this is just a small drop in the housing bucket. The City’s attorney, Dennis Herrera issued a fine of $200 per day of violations as well as forfeiture of illegally gained profits, but the fines are against the landlord not AirBnB. Further the city has also released the names of the landlords being fined so it’s possible that there will be protests at their front door after protesters visit Google – this is highly unlikely.
In the meantime, a few fines cannot put a stop to the housing drain, and as long as it is easier to rent AirBnB apartments and prevent property owners from pursuing more housing construction, many salaried employees will be seeking overpriced housing and driving existing residents to Oakland. AirBnB may not be directly related to each rental units as the city is trying to demonstrate, but overall, it has decreased the number of units, bedrooms, and couches where people typically live and work not travel. A quick search on the website will show listings of 5,770 listings for 36 of the city’s neighborhoods. Even if some of those are couches, there are nearly 600 that can accommodate six travelers. That is a staggering number of large units. Of course if a family of four is looking, there are over 1000 properties for rental. So the trouble seems to be – as the market squeezes middle income families out of the city, can they afford to come as visitors and stay in AirBnB apartment for four? It’s more likely they can afford a large couch.