The Trouble With AirBnB
The Berkeley City Council will begin the process of legalizing short-term rentals.
Right now, Berkeley law prohibits residential rentals of less than 14 days, according to a March 18 Planning Department staff report. However, over one thousand such rentals are listed on hosting platform Airbnb in Berkeley. The City plans to legalize these rentals in some form, and collect the hotel tax from them.
The Berkeley Rent Board has identified three issues with potential short term rentals regulations in a letter they are sending to the City Council: the loss of rental housing, adequate enforcement of new laws, and preservation of existing rights for tenants. “Allowing unlimited short-term rentals or creating regulations that lack enforcement will contribute to the housing crisis in Berkeley,” they said.
Meanwhile, Berkeley’s code inspectors don’t seem to be enforcing the existing prohibition. Two Berkeley Tenants who have been to code enforcement have been told different things. A few months ago, a tenant who lives beneath a vacation rental was told at the counter that “it’s illegal but there is nothing you can do about it.” Another Berkeley Tenant who lives next door to such a rental spoke to code enforcement last week and was told it is hard to find evidence of the rentals. Meanwhile, San Francisco fined one landlord $276,000 for evicting tenants with the Ellis Act and then renting to tourists on VRBO.
The central question in the local debate seems to be how to limit short-term rentals of rent controlled units, particularly in owner-occupied, smaller buildings. The Rent Board letter says that such rentals could still have a big impact on available rental housing, and cites a chart from the Housing Element which shows 21% of all Berkeley housing is in 2-4 unit buildings. It seems that the Rent Board is discussing rentals of empty units like hotel rooms, not homes where the occupant is away on their own vacation. BTU has identified a handful of large landlords renting five or even ten units to tourists all year round, and is examining Santa Monica’s new law as a model, since that town has rental control rules similar to the Berkeley laws on rental units.
If you are a tenant who has been displaced – and replaced – by a tourist rental, contact BTU. We are also looking for more tenants who can no longer relax at home because the unit next to them has been turned into a hotel.
The City Council is expected to discuss a framework for regulations, then refer the issue to the Housing and Planning Commissions, as early as May 26.
Thursday May 21 @ 10 AM
4×4 Committee (Rent Board/City Council)
2001 Center Street
Rent Stabilization Program’s Law Library, 2nd floor
Tuesday May 26 @ 7 PM
City Council Meeting
2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way
ITEMS 19 and 21
March 18 Staff Report to Planning Commission:
Berkeley Rent Board Letter to City Council (Item 4):
San Francisco City Attorney Sues Landlords Over Short-Term Rentals
“Illegal conversions that push long-term tenants out of their homes diminish the availability of residential rental units for San Franciscans, and they’re a significant contributor to our housing affordability crisis,” Herrera said. …The City Attorney’s Office suspects that the Lees aren’t the only landlords flouting state and city laws in that fashion, and is eager to pursue other cases like this one. Folks who want to report violations like the Lees’ are encouraged to contact the City Attorney’s code enforcement hotline.”
“Also last year, Herrera filed a similar case against landlords in North Beach. That case settled in January with the landlords paying $115,000 in penalties and agreeing to a similar injunction.”
Santa Monica Bans Short Term Rentals of Whole Units
“Santa Monica has taken one of the strongest stances of any city against the practice of professional landlords hoarding all their properties for tourists instead of for actual renters, keeping housing off an already crunched and expensive market. Full-unit rentals account for the overwhelming majority of the listings on Airbnb in Los Angeles, and for nearly all of the listings that actually make money.”