Proposition F: Fix the Airbnb mess

San Francisco’s former mayor takes aim at the current mayor’s handling of the short-term rental revolution
When is a rental apartment an apartment and when is it a motel? San Francisco voters get their say in the matter with the hotly contested Prop F this fall. photo: daygreg

City Hall asserts that it is protecting neighborhoods from short-term residential rentals to tourists, like those offered by Airbnb. It claims it’s protecting the availability and affordability of scarce housing. I wholeheartedly disagree.

In fact, San Francisco’s City Hall has hampered the integrity of our zoning laws and has incentivized the illegal conversion of our residences to de facto hotel rooms.

City Hall passed legislation that is so weak that every independent analysis reached the same conclusion: The current law is unworkable and unenforceable.

And it shows. The number of residential listings on Airbnb rose nearly 14 percent in the past year, despite City Hall’s rhetoric about regulating the activity. While Airbnb claims half of the market for short-term residential rentals, more than 60 other websites also rent homes to tourists.

Based on expert reports published in the San Francisco Chronicle, there are now more than 10,000 entire units rented short-term all year long throughout the city, including 21 in Presidio Heights, 53 in Cow Hollow, 113 in the Marina, 120 in Pacific Heights, 75 in Russian Hill, 41 in North Beach, 57 in Telegraph Hill, 23 in Fisherman’s Wharf, 164 in Nob Hill, 42 in Chinatown, 73 in Union Square, and 11 in the Financial District. Airbnb even lists full-time rentals in the Presidio. Add rentals of spare rooms and the numbers climb still higher. These tourist rentals change the character of residential neighborhoods.

When the place across the street turns into a “party palace” for out-of-town visitors, our rights to the quiet enjoyment, safety, and security of our own homes and neighborhoods are compromised.

The SAFE Neighborhood Watch program teaches that the single best way to prevent crime is to know your neighbors. That’s hard to do with a constant stream of strangers in and out of apartment buildings and nearby houses.

There are no published reports of violent crimes in San Francisco Airbnb rentals to date, but several homes have been looted and trashed. In other cities, however, the record of assaults is nothing short of horrifying.

City Hall is so enamored of Airbnb that it even granted tenants the right to register their apartments as short-term tourist rentals without the property owner’s permission.

Finally, despite the Planning Department’s expert staff requesting City Hall to mandate that Airbnb and other websites be prohibited from listing short-term rentals without city permits, this request was rejected, making the current law completely unenforceable.

Proposition F closes loopholes and grants real and effective enforcement tools to the city, compared to the current regulations that are both toothless and feckless.

Proposition F provides the city with the reporting requirements that will allow it to monitor compliance with the law.

Proposition F ensures that tenants must receive their landlord’s permission before renting out their unit.

Proposition F holds corporations like Airbnb accountable by limiting “hosting platforms” to listing only housing units that are properly registered with the city.

Proposition F sets fair, reasonable rules for those wishing to rent out an extra room from time to time, or their entire house when on vacation.

Proposition F provides notice to neighbors and other building residents when a short-term rental is approved.

And, Proposition F allows other building tenants and neighbors to go to court to protect their rights to privacy and tranquility in their homes and neighborhoods if, and only if, the city fails to address a serious problem.

These are common-sense changes that City Hall should have accepted – drafted by San Franciscans, not lobbyists. Proposition F is a San Francisco solution to a San Francisco problem: It’s fair, reasonable, and will be effective.

Join me in voting Yes on Proposition F.

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Dianne Feinstein is the senior U.S. senator (D) from California and the former mayor of San Francisco.

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