Airbnb-related violations cited in more and more SF evictions

Mike Koozmin/SF ExaminerThe president of Home Sharers of San Francisco Peter Kwan leads a press conference on the steps of city hall Thursday to urge the San Francisco Planning Commission to address a proposal by Supervisor Campos which in part would give government access to Airbnb user data.

Mike Koozmin/SF ExaminerThe president of Home Sharers of San Francisco Peter Kwan leads a press conference on the steps of city hall Thursday to urge the San Francisco Planning Commission to address a proposal by Supervisor Campos which in part would give government access to Airbnb user data.

Bigger than the Ellis Act and more disruptive than condominium conversions, San Francisco-based Airbnb is playing a major role in city evictions.

A total of 145 eviction notices filed with the Rent Board that specifically mention the short-term rental website or violations of The City’s rules on short-term occupancy were filed over a 12-month period that ended in February, records show. Last year, those rules were amended for Airbnb.

Out of 2,120 eviction notices filed in a city with more than 222,000 rental units, the 145 Airbnb-related evictions is a small portion. The figures also show that of Airbnb’s estimated 5,000 hosts in San Francisco — people who make housing units available for short stays, such as vacations — few paid the ultimate price for using the site: loss of a rent-controlled housing unit.

Short-term rentals are, however, a bigger factor than the much-maligned Ellis Act (113 evictions), which Mayor Ed Lee and state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, are working to amend at the state level.

Attorneys for tenants and landlords agree there could be many, many more Airbnb-related evictions that go unreported.

“There are hundreds of cases” that involve Airbnb, said tenant attorney Joseph Tobener, who has defended several individuals in Airbnb-related eviction cases. “It’s insane.”

Nuisances like disruptive behavior and breaches of leases — unauthorized subletting and nonpayment of rent — are still the most common reasons for eviction in The City, said Daniel Bornstein, a prominent landlord attorney who handles hundreds of evictions every year.

Still, Airbnb “has emerged as a fundamental core of my law practice” within “the last 12 to 18 months,” Bornstein said.

Tenants can be evicted for using Airbnb and other websites to rent out their units in a variety of ways under The City’s Rent Ordinance: for “illegal use,” breaching provisions of the lease that ban guests or subtenants or causing a “nuisance.”

More than 1,100 just-cause eviction notices that cite one of the three reasons above were filed between March 1, 2014, and Feb. 28 of this year, according to the Rent Board.

Not every eviction notice filed with the Rent Board ultimately results in a tenant leaving their unit, and that statistic is not compiled. Likewise, not every loss of housing requires an eviction notice, said Robert Collins, the Rent Board’s assistant director.

“If a tenant takes a buyout, is it an eviction? If a tenant is threatened and leaves, is it an eviction? Collins asked rhetorically.

Overall, evictions filed with the Rent Board did increase 7 percent, from 1,977 to 2,120, from the previous 12-month period, records show. And it appears Airbnb — now a global force that may be worth as much as $40 billion — played a role in that. While Ellis Act evictions dropped year over year, notices citing “illegal use of unit” and “breach of rental agreement” went up for the fifth straight year.

The trend appears set to continue despite adoption of a law authored last year by then-Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, who is now in the state Assembly, meant to regulate and legalize use of Airbnb and other short-term rental websites by having users register with The City.

Registered users no longer violate prohibitions on short-term occupancy or using a residential unit as a hotel. But legal or not, they may still violate their lease, which could result in eviction.

Attorneys and Airbnb users say the website does not make clear enough the risks involved with being a host.

There are also other short-term rental websites used in San Francisco, such as VRBO, which has hundreds of listings in The City. While they also fall under the new regulations, none are as popular as Airbnb.

Jeffrey Katz, a 49-year-old special-education teacher, moved out of his Hayes Valley apartment last year after receiving a 72-hour notice to quit from his landlords’ attorneys for using Airbnb.

He holds The City just as accountable as Airbnb. Representatives for Airbnb refused to see him when he visited the company’s Brannan Street office in search of advice after receiving the eviction notice, Katz said.

“The mayor encouraged it … and The City did not protect me,” said Katz, who now lives in Palo Alto. “San Francisco was the only place I’ve ever wanted to live. And I was forced out.”

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