Short-term rental service Airbnb has been targeted in a class-action lawsuit filed last week in San Francisco Superior Court stemming from allegations of illegal short-term stays at a 62-room singe-room occupancy hotel about three blocks from Union Square.
The lawsuit adds fodder to the ongoing debate in San Francisco over whether to legalize short-term rentals through online services like Airbnb and how best to regulate them. The debate comes at a time when rents and evictions have hit noticeably high levels and housing is in scarce supply.
Filed by attorneys Mark Hooshmand and Tyson Redenbarger of San Francisco-based Hooshmand Law Group, the lawsuit argues that Airbnb has knowingly profited from use of its services in violation of San Francisco housing codes and seeks damages for the alleged violations.
The lawsuit specifically focuses on alleged violations at the 62-unit single room occupancy Sheldon Hotel at 629 Post St. in the Tenderloin. Single-room occupancy hotels are housing intended for lower-income residents. The class-action complaint was initially filed on behalf of two long-term Sheldon Hotel tenants, Daniel McGee and Louis Gamache.
“They live there. They were concerned with what has happened in their hotel,” said Redenbarger, adding that the plaintiffs are afraid the situation could somehow cause them to lose their homes.
Among the claims in the lawsuit is that the plaintiffs suffered from increased noise and foot traffic from Airbnb guests.
Hotel owner Cameron Ardebilchi blasted Hooshmand, who has filed lawsuits against him in the past.
“Hooshmand is full of it. He just wants to run up attorney fees,” Ardebilchi said. As for the short-term rental allegations, Ardebilchi said that “we used any services that we can use to get our rooms rented” but when doing so,”we have not broken any laws.” He declined to go into further specifics, citing the ongoing litigation.
In general, single-room occupancy hotels are not allowed to rent rooms for less than seven days, but there are exceptions if units sat vacant during the winter months.
“The code is very specific of what we can do and can't do and we follow that code,” Ardebilchi said.
Airbnb spokesman Nick Papas said the company would not comment specifically on the legal action.
“But anyone who follows our company knows how deeply we care about making San Francisco a more livable, more affordable city, and we are constantly striving to better inform our community of hosts and travelers,” he said.
San Francisco officials have said that Airbnb and services like it are the wave of the future, so the question isn't whether to legalize them but how best to regulate them.
That question is expected to be hotly debated Sept. 15 when the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee will hold a hearing on legislation that would legalize and regulate short-term rental services like Airbnb.
Introduced by board President David Chiu, the legislation would legalize short-term rentals in multiunit buildings if the resident on the lease lives in the unit for at least 275 days out of the year. It also requires a registry of hosts with The City.
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