Lawsuits target Airbnb rentals

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LAWSUITS TARGET AIRBNB RENTALS

The San Francisco City Attorney's Office last week filed a pair of lawsuits against local landlords who illegally rent out apartments on a short-term basis, units that had been cleared of tenants using the Ellis Act. Meanwhile, the San Francisco Tenants Unions has hired attorney Joseph Tobener to file more such lawsuits, and he is preparing to file at least seven lawsuits involving 20 units.

The lawsuits are the latest actions in a fast-moving crackdown on Airbnb and other online companies that facilitate short-term apartment rentals that violate city laws against converting apartments into de facto hotel rooms, including VRBO.com and Homeaway.com.

Board of Supervisors President David Chiu recently introduced legalization that would legalize, limit, and regulate such rentals, a measure that will be considered this summer. That legislation comes on the heels of Airbnb's decision to stop stonewalling the city (and us at the Guardian, which has been raising these issues for the last two years) by agreeing to start paying the transient occupancy taxes it owes to the city for its transactions and creating new terms of service that acknowledge its business model may violate local laws in San Francisco and elsewhere (see "Into thin air," 6/6/13).

As we've reported, City Attorney Dennis Herrera has been working with tenant groups and others on a legal action aimed at curtailing the growing practice of landlords using online rental services to skirt rent control laws and other tenant protection, removing units from the permanent housing market while still renting them out at a profit.

"In the midst of a housing crisis of historic proportions, illegal short-term rental conversions of our scarce residential housing stock risks becoming a major contributing factor," Herrera said in a public statement. "The cases I've filed today target two egregious offenders. These defendants didn't just flout state and local law to conduct their illegal businesses, they evicted disabled tenants in order to do so. Today's cases are the first among several housing-related matters under investigation by my office, and we intend to crack down hard on unlawful conduct that's exacerbating—and in many cases profiting from—San Francisco's alarming lack of affordable housing."

Tobener tells the Guardian that the San Francisco Tenants Union hired him to discourage local landlords from removing units from the market. "The San Francisco Tenants Union is just fed up with the loss of affordable housing," Tobener told us. "It's not about the money, it's about getting these units back on the market." (Steven T. Jones)

 

SF LOOKS TO MARIN FOR RENEWABLES

Just in time for Earth Day, a renewed effort to reduce the city's carbon emissions was introduced at the April 22 Board of Supervisors yesterday. Sup. John Avalos introduced a resolution calling for a study of San Francisco joining Marin Clean Energy, which provides renewable energy to that county's residents.

The move is seen largely as an effort to circumvent Mayor Ed Lee's opposition to implementing a controversial renewable energy plan called CleanPowerSF (see "Revisionist future," April 15).

"Mayor Lee and the Public Utilities Commission objected to CleanPowerSF, but they have offered no other solution to provide San Franciscans with 100 percent renewable electricity," Avalos said in a public statement. "With this ordinance, we can either join Marin or we can implement our own program, but we can no longer afford to do nothing."