Real Estate Today

Short time or long time? An Airbnb encounter

Are any of the Airbnb listings in your property? Photo:

Proposition F: “Shall the City limit short-term rentals of a housing unit to 75 days per year regardless of whether the rental is hosted or unhosted: require owners to provide proof that they authorize the unit as a short-term rental; require residents who offer short-term rentals to submit quarterly reports on the number of days they live in the unit and the number of days the unit is rented; prohibit short-term rentals of in-law units; allow interested parties to sue hosting platforms; and make it a misdemeanor for a hosting platform to unlawfully list a unit as a
short-term rental?”

Working as a real estate agent, I rarely meet a buyer looking for a home in a multiunit building who does not ask about rental restrictions, specifically short-term rentals. I explain that it is important to closely read a building’s Condo Rules and Regulations (CCRs) concerning the minimum rental period in the building. I also tell buyers that many buildings are changing their CCR’s to guard against short-term rentals.


In September I had an Airbnb wake-up call. A letter arrived in the mail from the company that manages the building where I own and rent a condo. It said: “It has come to the Board’s attention that your condo is being used for short term rental. … Please remedy the situation by September 7, 2015.” They gave me a week to get the short-term renters out. My first reaction was disbelief. How dare the HOA accuse me and my perfect tenants of renting on Airbnb? In July I signed a new lease with my tenants and discussed in excruciating detail their rights and responsibilities when it came to subletting, short-term roommates, and changing roommates.

Immediately I e-mailed and sent texts to my three tenants to find out what was going on. When there was no reply, I left phone messages asking if they were renting the condo short-term. Normally I receive instant replies. Mysteriously there was no reply after several hours. Searching Airbnb, I was stunned to see a listing for my condo. My disbelief turned to anger very quickly. Without boring readers with a blow-by-blow recounting of the events that followed, I will sum up the story.

At 9:30 p.m. that evening, the tenant who had placed the ad on Airbnb called me. His cell phone was conveniently dead since noon that day. He told me he had called the moment he returned home. He explained he had posted a listing on Airbnb a year earlier to rent his room while he was on vacation in 2014. At the time he posted the listing, he told me he had not read the lease closely and did not know he had done anything wrong.

I pointed out that short-term rentals of any kind were not allowed under the terms of his lease, and if he did this again it would be grounds to terminate his tenancy. Within minutes the Airbnb listing was removed. So there was no confusion about the tenant’s responsibilities under the lease, I had my attorney follow up with a letter.

For me that was not the end of it. I also found myself quite upset with the management company that had mailed the letter informing me of the Airbnb ad. Had one of the major management companies in town not heard of e-mail or the telephone? The next day I received a phone call from the HOA president. I asked why I was only notified by mail. Her reply: “Our lawyer told us to send a letter.” That makes sense, but I did not see this as an excuse for not also sending me an e-mail or calling.

Closely reading the HOA residents’ handbook, I found the fine for violation of the rental and residential use policy is $1,000, with additional fines as time passed if not corrected. There was supposed to be a letter with a 30-day notice to correct the violation. The letter I received was dated September 1. I received it two days later, and the letter told me I had to “remedy the situation by September 7.” Obviously whoever wrote the letter had not read the residents’ handbook.

Life would be so much easier if people actually spoke to each other. What a novel concept! Unfortunately with e-mail, texts, and long work hours, people seem to have little time for telephone calls or face-to-face conversations.

My story ends here, but I feel there are lessons to be learned for both landlords and tenants whether or not Prop F passes.

  1.  Read your lease and discuss subletting short-term rental rules in person with tenants.
  2.  In condo buildings, both landlords and tenants need to read the HOA rules in detail.
  3.  If you live in a building run by a management company, ask for their procedure in writing for dealing with infractions of the building rules.
  4.  Know the city’s rules concerning short-term rentals. Do not be caught off-guard when you find a neighbor has reported you to the city for renting your home, condo, or TIC short-term.

As a neighborhood activist for years before I sold real estate, I consider the political response to short-term rentals in the form of Prop F to be lightning fast. Airbnb lists over 500 rentals in San Francisco and paid for 13 of the 18 statements opposing Prop F in the November ballot. The most vocal group for voting yes is Share Better SF. They paid for 6 of the 20 statements in support of Prop F.

There is plenty to think about here whether you are a tenant, landlord, or see yourself as a victim of short-term housing.

Mayor Lee recently created a new office to streamline registering short-term landlords who want to comply with the law passed on Feb. 1, 2015, limiting whole property rentals to 90 days a year. Landlords must register with the city. The office will also pursue violations. The cat is out of the bag on short-term rentals in San Francisco. If you have not properly registered your short-term rental, do not be surprised when the city comes calling.

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Carole Isaacs is a Realtor with McGuire Real Estate, where she is a Top Producer. Follow her on Twitter @CaroleIsaacs or visit her online at or call 415-608-1267.