Short-Term Rental Complaints filed in 2016

There have been over 400 complaints related to illegal short-term rental activity (a.k.a. airbnb-ing) in San Francisco filed with the city since the beginning of the year. And over the past seven days, another 31 complaints were filed.

But while the distribution of complaints related to illegal short-term rental activities since the beginning of the year has been spread out across the city (as mapped above), nearly 90 percent of the complaints filed over the past week were specific to properties within the boundaries of Noe Valley (as mapped below), which would suggest it’s a concerted effort aimed at rooting out the scofflaws in the neighborhood.

Short-Term Rental Complaints filed 9/5/16 - 9/12/16

Or perhaps it’s a move to reduce some local competition.

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Comments from “Plugged-In” Readers

  1. Posted by NoeEnvy

    Couple things:

    -What defines a complaint? Can people complain just based on the fact that a property is listed on Airbnb? I obviously find it hard to believe that this many Airbnbs in such a small area in such a small period of time had issues caused by visitors which would have led to valid complaints.

    -How much do you want to bet it’s this guy?

    • Posted by ValidSTRHost

      No…you can’t complain for the sake of complaining. If a short-term rental unit is not the primary resident living in that unit for at least 275 days a year, that would be a valid complaint. If the STR host does not have a STR permit and business license, that would be a valid complaint. If an entire unit is being rented more than 90 days per year, that would be a valid complaint.

  2. Posted by JayJay

    Hmm, sounds to me like it’s just one person doing all the filings. Either way, he or she is doing a good job!!!

  3. Posted by soccermom

    I can’t really understand the kind of outlook on life it would take to devote so much time to a task such as this, yet I think it is a good outcome for the city.

    Thank goodness for the cranks?

    • Posted by lemon obrien

      money. and quality of life

      • Posted by BobN

        If someone is going out of their way to find these places, it means their use didn’t sufficiently diminish the quality of life of the actual neighbors to motivate them to complain.

        • Posted by SFMichael

          BobN, given that these complaints are all in one neighborhood isn’t it likely that this is an “actual neighbor”?

          • Posted by BobN

            I reserve the word neighbor for people who live close to me, within a few houses, not several blocks away.

      • Posted by soccermom

        Tell me how money plays a factor? If this is a registered host trying to exclude competition, that’s plausible, but seems like a pretty difficult way to make a few bucks. I suppose the move is to sign up to stay in a lot of these places a couple of months out, get the address from the host, and then back out ‘mysteriously.’ Rinse and repeat. Platforms should (have already?) developed a sniffer algo for this behavior.

        As for quality of life, that’s more my point. I don’t think of myself as a new-agey type, but this kind of citizen’s complaint seems like a great way to bring a lot of negative energy into your life. You gotta Frozen soundrack/Passenger that and let it go.

  4. Posted by Ohlone Californio

    Out of curiosity, have any of you fellow posters, or the editor, found yourselves in conversations with friends or acquaintances in which they grossly misunderstand the overall impact of short term rentals? I mean a conversation with an intelligent person who has completely bought the party line? Leaping from “Air BnB” to “housing shortage” as if it’s a fact that short term rentals are a big problem? Just curious. I’ve been in the situation more than a few times and it’s bizarre that folks are being manipulated so.

    • Posted by Alai

      My take on it is that a lot of people will happily accept any explanation which allows them to continue to oppose any significant housing development, while still allowing them to declare themselves supporters of affordable housing. AirBNB, foreign cash buyers, tech workers, condo conversions… there will always be another scapegoat.

    • Posted by BTinSF

      In the building where I live, one group of vacationing party animals in the large condo building could be a “big problem”. I isn’t about numbers so much as conforming to the uses the property was envisioned to be providing. Most “homes” and their surrounding communities are not a good fit for tourist uses beyond the occasional. I won’t argue someone’s right to be disruptive of their community but I will argue the neighbors’ right to fight back by trying to mold the laws their way and then applying those laws to the letter.

  5. Posted by Mondo A.

    I have no problem “Leaping from “Air BnB” to “housing shortage” as if it’s a fact that short term rentals are a big problem?” because they are totally a big problem. Short term rentals remove housing stock from the market and result in a lower number of available long term rentals. I think it’s called math.

    • Posted by Ohlone Californio

      Yeah that’s what they say. But if you truly look at the numbers and do the math you will know that AirBnB, etc are merely a drop in the bucket. It is indeed called math. What you wrote was merely undeserved archness.

      • Posted by Elitist Pig

        It’s like people who oppose new housing as a way to put downward pressure on rents because it doesn’t instantly cut rents across the entire Bay Area.

      • Posted by Hunter

        It is a “drop in the bucket” – but it’s also one of the few leaks that we now have the legal power to stop (if enforced). Why does that bother you? For example, there is little recourse for locals wanting to increase height limits in the sunset and encourage higher density. Illegal STRs are something we have the power to fight now.

        • Posted by Ohlone Californio

          Why does what bother me? Being able to stop illegal short term rentals? That does not bother me.

          Do you mean, why does the phenomenon which is people accepting the AirBnB scapegoat when the actual root cause is poor urban planning bother me? Because it’s annoying and not just online either. As I said, too many intelligent people believe this falsehood. Lots of people in this town think that “Ellis Act + turn a multi unit into AirBnB hotel” is a thing! Not to mention the way people feel as if they can leap from the subject of owner move in to Ellis act to AirBnB to what have you as if they are synonymous. It’s bothersome because it is a big problem, the ability to solve it exists, but those who could solve it, voters, are duped.

      • Posted by NorCalGal

        Riiiight…..that’s why worldwide, there’s has been and continues to be been push back against Airbnb units. Because Airbnb units represent “…a drop in the bucket”. See recent story re: Barcelona.

        It’s common knowledge Airbnb won’t share their numbers, so how can anyone tell what the true math is? Do you have inside information and hard, verifiable data you can share with SS readers, Ohlone Californio?

        • Posted by STR_Supporter

          But at least 538 blog doesn’t buy into the BS of airbnb taking units off the market and driving up rents. I love the buying of made up BS but when other sources finally tell the real story, it looks like not all are buying it. JUST BUILD MORE!.

          • Posted by NorCalGal

            Interesting story, thanks for the link. However, the main focus of the story is on commercial Airbnb units, rather than all Airbnb units.

            This excerpt from the article supports my comment that no-one can tell what the true math is, because Airbnb won’t share their actual numbers: “…Estimating the scale of the commercial-listings market, and its growth, is difficult, however, because Airbnb has generally refused to release bookings data, citing users’ privacy. Instead it has released only aggregate data illustrating Airbnb’s economic impact or the behavior of typical users. “Airbnb shares data with the public they think supports their position and withholds data they think opposes their position,” said Ben Edelman…”

            By the way, I have no problem with Airbnb units that are properly registered and are following the relevant city/county rules and regs. I do have issues with bad actors. I live in a neighborhood (family oriented, very quiet) with two houses that were inherited by the kids and are now rented out every weekend to parties of 10+ people who swear, curse, smoke pot, stay up until 3 am and generally evoke lots of ill-will and bad mojo from the neighbors. The kids don’t live in the houses during the week, and the houses aren’t registered. Thus, they are illegal short term rentals.

        • Posted by Ohlone Californio

          I mean, sure, I can google.

          Look at the data for how many folks are renting out full time, full properties, for over 90 days a year. Calling the number a drop in the bucket is generous. It’s not even a drop in the bucket as compared to the total rent stock. I don’t care whose data you use, the city’s, the Chronicle’s, AirBnB, what have you. It’s not a significant amount.

    • Posted by ValidSTRHost

      Mondo A. You are making a very broad statement without knowing the facts. Short Term rentals are not the cause of a shortage in the housing stock. It is the lack of new housing stock to accommodate the few hundred thousand new residents in San Francisco and surrounding areas that is the cause of a housing shortage which results in high rents and motivates landlords to evict tenants living in rent-controlled units.

      I am a short term host who has a short term rental permit and I do short term renting of my guest spare room because I have a steady stream of personal friends and family who come visit me yearly and when my guest bedroom is not being used I rent it out to make some extra income to pay for a hefty property tax bill. Also to keep up with maintenance costs like a broken hot water heater, install new windows, pay for new roofing, etc…I wouldn’t rent long term because where would my friends and family stay when they came to visit?

  6. Posted by Just My Opinion

    I think that the city has set itself up for this. The BOS, through their pandering for votes, has made it so onerous to be a small landlord, has made leases virtually inoperative, has stripped property owners of rights they would have in virtually any other city around the world. People with say a unit in their house are afraid to become a LL so they turn to an alternative which is worse for the fabric of the neighborhoods.

    My objection to short term rentals is based primarily on the fact that I would not want to live next door to a hotel room. It is not what I signed up for and I think it should be illegal. And NO IT IS NOT THE SAME as have a friend or relative coming to stay with you periodically.

    • Posted by Former LL

      Yes. After several ugly experiences with being a small landlord in San Francisco, I will NEVER rent long term again. Fortunately, there is a very robust market for 30+ day rentals to business travelers.

      • Posted by San FronziScheme

        Been doing that for 4 years now. The guests can legally ask for a lease after a 30-day stay, but they would be foolish to pay 20% to 40% over market rate. It’s the sweet spot to stay in legal territory wrt rent control as well as zoning laws.

    • Posted by jwb

      Yeah, it’s just awful being a landlord, what with all that asset appreciation and with rents tripling in five years and taxes locked in at 1979 levels. Hard out there for a pimp, as they say.

      • Posted by primeminister

        Do you have experience as an SF landlord or pimp?

      • Posted by Harvey

        Unfortunately, it often comes down to “quality of life” calculations. We own a two unit bulding: we rented out the ground floor unit, and lived in the upstairs unit – as you say, the income was great. However, as a landlord, you cannot have a “no-smoking” policy, you cannot have a “no-pets” policy, no matter if their are children breathing the second hand smoke, or alergies that make pet dander diffcult to deal with. Once our tenant moved out, we have not rented that unit again. Of course we took a big hit to the bottom line, but other factors out-weighed the economic considerations.

        • Posted by Some Guy

          What ARE you talking about? Am I so severely misinformed that I mistakenly believe a private SF landlord cannot BAN smoking and/or pets in a unit they are renting out?

          Of COURSE you can say “no smoking/no pets”, — can’t you?

          • Posted by parklife

            A landlord CANNOT ban smoking in a unit if the original lease did not specifically prohibit smoking. Although California law allows this to be done it also gives the local jurisdiction the right to provide an exeption for existing leases. Unfortunately, the city of SF believes that “tenants rights” preempt the rights of non-smokers to breathe clean air.

        • Posted by JR "Bob" Dobbs

          Yes, a landlord can ban both smoking and pets (except ADA service animals)

          • Posted by nopa_sf

            And the minute the new tenant signs the lease with no pet clause in it, he or she can run to the doctor and get a note they need a pet for their emotional health

        • Posted by ValidSTRHost

          Harvey,
          Modify your rental agreement so it says “No Smoking allowed in the rental unit” and “No pets allowed” when you get a new tenant and you should be fine. Also include a penalty amount or a clause that says if a tenant violates this clause that their security deposit will be non-refundable.

          • Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

            Yes, it is very important to not only outline what is prohibited but also tangible penalties (eviction, fees) that can be applied in the event of a violation. Otherwise you’ll get a tenant taunting you with “Yeah, I know but what are you gonna do about it?”

  7. Posted by mission-ite

    There are several vacant small apartments on my block that must be on AirBnB. Lots of folks with suitcases, out in front, peering at their phones. Drawbacks include lots of noise from the “outdoor living room” right outside my bedroom (people are on vacation & in a party mood), and guests parking their cars in my driveway, while they unload their stuff & get oriented. I’d like to stay on good terms with my neighbors, so I feel awkward complaining.

    • Posted by STR_Supporter

      the noise argument is super lame. Try a new one. Airbnb has been around since 2008, did you notice all the noise year after year after year all these years?

      Didn’t think so. And for partys yeah all those police reports of partying noise that I keep hearing in the news all the time – said no one ever.

      • Posted by bruhaha

        If AirBnB’s number of bookings has been stagnant since 2008, they’d be out of funding since no investors would give them any money (and no, they’re currently not profitable).

        More bookings = more chance of bad guests.

  8. Posted by JR "Bob" Dobbs

    “Vigilante” is not the right term for this. (If someone were going around tossing Molotov cocktails in suspected airbnb units, that would be vigilantism). Reporting of suspected illegal airbnb units is precisely what the law provides for. Either the complaints will be determined to be well-founded or not (and, if so, maybe the enforcement authorities will take action, or maybe not). But this is the civil, due process, even if it is one person undertaking to take up the cause. It should be applauded as a civilized response to concerns about unlawful activity.

  9. Posted by Bostwick

    Simple solution — allow people to build within the zoning rules and if they are within rules NO discretionary review and No blocking by neighbors. Supply goes up. Get rid of rent stabilization and instead have a rent or parcel tax and pay people cash rent vouchers who cannot afford rent and qualify for help. vs. situation now which is NOT means tested and likely MANY people in the city who have rent controlled places and do not need. And finally allow up height zoning. But again that is a simple solution that would work to vastly increase housing — but would likely balance SF to more normal rent vs. owner ratios and cause elected officials to loose their base. So won’t happen.

    In the meantime I will sit back and watch how the “affordable housing” plans simply continue to restrict supply, how short sighted or ignorant those in support of the current solutions are in that all they do is restrict supply, and enjoy how these plans simply drive up the value of my single family home well above the normal rates of economic return.

  10. Posted by jwb

    The relevant part of your idea is kinda buried: rent tax. It’s the perfect solution but it is rarely proposed.

    • Posted by primeminister

      UK does not have a property tax; it has a council tax, that ALL RESIDENTS must pay. Could it happen in CA?

      • Posted by Alai

        One downside: non-residents don’t pay it, making London an ideal place for parking money in properties, and supposedly turning some of the nicest neighborhoods into ghost towns.

    • Posted by Alai

      If you do that, though, with no equivalent tax for owned residences, you’ll only further encourage taking rental units off the market.

      Then again, some may see that as an upside…

  11. Posted by anon

    Rent control impacts housing availability a million times more than short term rentals. But the first is sacred and the second is not.

    • Posted by ValidSTRHost

      Anon…how exactly does Rent Control impact housing availability?

      • Posted by Serge

        Small mom-and-pop landlords do not want to deal with the headache of renting their spare units. Sure the money is good, but if you are locked into a tenant for essentially life, you don’t get to see any of that rent appreciation. Because of that they opt to keep the units off the market.

      • Posted by R

        People remain in their units for longer than they otherwise would and therefore reduce supply. Further, in a normal market, 100% of the apartment units would be in the market every year as the leases expire and both tenants and landlords evaluate whether they want to continue to lease. Since rent control units automatically roll over to month-to-month, they are effectively removed from the market. The supply is entirely made up of tenant move-outs which usually amounts to 15%-30% of a building’s units in any given year, depending on a lot of factors. This reduced supply results in higher rents on the available units.

  12. Posted by EBGuy

    Someone from the Hotel Council of San Francisco?

  13. Posted by Some Guy

    AirBNBIsm is, plain and simple, a “disruptive” assault on residential neighborhoods. And no matter how carefully vetted a short term tenant may be, the fact is unavoidable that having randoms passing through on a regular basis DISTURBS the vibe of a residential area.

    For under-30 party animals or over-30 children still pretending to be under-30 party animals, and getting off on the sociopathic pleasure of inflicting chaos and doubt on neighbors, airBNB is whatever-whatever. For people trying to raise kids or just live a stable, predictable, quiet life in a safe place, AirBNB is a tasteless affront to established mores of neighborly decency. (Such as they may remain in this day and age.)

    • Posted by Serge

      I live on a block where there are a group of young long-term residents are renting out entire houses (in groups). They are loud, noisy, skateboard on the sidewalk (do you know what 10 adults riding on the sidewalk at the same time sounds like?), and trash the street (the curb by their house always has a pile of trash up front). Before them a quiet family lived there and I barely if ever even noticed it. I also know that there are some Airbnb units down the block, no further than that house. I have never heard a single peep out of the Airbnb house. If it weren’t for seeing a complaint filed about an STR with a link to the listing, I would never have known it existed.

      Anecdotal evidence, yes, but about as good as yours.

  14. Posted by ValidSTRHost

    Some Guy…you are being ridiculous! I do short term renting and my guests are polite, courteous and cause little to no disruptions to my neighbors. In fact, many neighbors don’t even know when I have a STR guest because that person is gone all day, either attending a conference, working, sight-seeing, visiting friends or relatives that have no space to accommodate them. The STR guests only come back to sleep and take a shower and change outfits.

    On the other hand, I have permanent neighbors that blasts their TVs, walk their dogs who sh*t or piss on the pavements and in the bushes outside my residence, who have weekly parties that take up all the parking on my street, invite friends to watch football or whatever sports games on TV, get drunk and yell and shout and who come home late at night, sometimes drunk, stand outside my bedroom window and have conversations while I am trying to get some sleep.

    • Posted by Serge

      Exactly. Same issue I described above. Long-term neighbors that are loud who never leave versus STR guests that I don’t even notice exist.

    • Posted by BTinSF

      It’s about the odds. The odds of having someone there for a week or 2 who respects those living nearby are lower than that someone who lives there snd plans to live there for the foreseeable future doing so. And I’ve encountered STR renters who aren’t really even aware of the sort of place they are in–that everybody around them isn’t vacationing like they are.

  15. Posted by MyOddCommentHandle

    probably not hard to find that guy and follow him home and then just harass him with BS citations. tripped on crack in sidewalk in front of his house. updated windows but no permits on file. just follow him around with a bullhorn, etc etc

    too bad there’s not a vexatious litigant equivalent to being a whiny b!tch who needs to go to the public library to email his daily whinings to people with better crap to do than process his complaints.

  16. Posted by SFguy

    I live on an alley way in the mission. In the last three years:

    – a duplex was purchased, tenants were evicted/bought out, and then converted to full time STR

    – a 3-unit building was purchased, tenants were evicted/bought out, and then converted full time STR

    -a 6-unit building was purchased, ellis acted, then sold off as TICs, now several of those units are used as full time STR

    My little alleyway now has at least 7-8 fewer LTR units than it had only a few years ago. If not for AirBNB/VRBO, it is hard to imagine that those units would not currently have long term residents. Not saying that AirBNB/VRBO are the underlying cause of the housing shortage, but it is disingenuous to say they don’t play a role.

    • Posted by SF_Landlord

      You cannot re-rent any units for 5 years after an Ellis Act eviction. If what you claim is really happening I’m sure you could rat out the new building owner.

      • Posted by SFguy

        I think what you mean to say is that it is not legal to re-rent for 5 years after an Ellis Act eviction, just like it is not legal in SF to AirBNB any property that is not a primary residence. There are a lot of STR hosts and landlords who are not constrained by what is illegal. Given the very weak enforcement mechanisms in place (that currently rely on neighbors reporting on scofflaws), that makes sense for those are seeking risk adjusted returns.

    • Posted by Ohlone Californio

      You say that, and I’m sure that’s what you perceive. But the reality is that if you evict, or evict with the Ellis Act especially, then you are subject to strict re-rental laws. And if someone puts a unit on AirBnB they are necessarily opening that unit up to scrutiny. People need to realize that there are now city employees following up on this stuff in order to levy fines. Furthermore, the whole “AirBnB doesn’t share its data” thing also doesn’t hold water any more. They did.

      • Posted by Ohlone Californio

        I should rephrase that. It is the units that are subject to re-rental restrictions moving forward. Whether it’s an OMI or especially, Ellis Act. People who flout those restrictions these days in lieu of vacation rentals will get caught because there’s money to be made.

        Side note, I made this argument to someone who believes the AirBnB scapegoat story, right? She said, “yeah but a lot of times with vacation rentals you don’t know the address of the place you’re renting. That’s why the city might not catch people.” Oh really. How does that work, precisely? You don’t know the address of the place you’re about to go stay at for a few days, or a week, or a few weeks?

        I’m telling you. People WANT to delude themselves on this issue, and I simply don’t get it.

      • Posted by SFguy

        I am sure you perceive all landlords as being law abiding, but the reality is there are certain landlords who are willing to break local rental laws in order to make money. Because SF currently has very weak enforcement mechanisms, the landlords face minimal risk of being caught.

  17. Posted by editedge

    Long term rental as group housing for 20-30 year olds enjoying City like a lot of us did make noisy neighbors, but tolerable with good communication from the neighbors affected. Knock on doors, poke your head over the fence, say hello, share cookies, make it an urban community. I’m convinced this works 95% of the time. The richness and frictions of City life. We must allow for some inconveniences in all directions. And yes this describes my modus vivende for 20 years home ownership, and 10 years before that renting in the Mission.

  18. Posted by Living in London

    This is not true. If you own or rent the property you have to pay regardless of whether you are a resident or even spend any time actually living in the property. Council tax is different than property tax in the US – it funds different things and only in your borough.

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