Airbnb has issued a mea culpa of sorts today, and a reversal of some of its previous rhetoric surrounding the issue of hosts who illegally use the platform to turn themselves into small-scale hoteliers, and who appear to be renting out multiple complete homes on a short-term basis. For the first time, the company has released what appears to be real data regarding the number of SF hosts renting more than one entire unit or home, in direct violation of the 2014 law that forbids that. According to a statement from the company's PR fixer and head of global public policy, Chris Lehane (once employed by the Clinton White House), "We want to continually evolve the platform so it serves the best interest of each city we’re in. This is a step in that direction, to make sure that each host has only one listing in San Francisco."
Previously, Airbnb had been reluctant to share hard numbers with the city, and refused to share user data on privacy grounds. But now, in an effort to curb backlash and act in good faith, the company appears to be ready to do some policing of its hosts and set this issue to rest something that will hopefully stem the tide of greed among real estate investors who are taking long-term rentals off the market to turn them into full-time vacation rentals.
The new data, taken as a snapshot on March 15 shows:
- Out of 9,448 active listings in SF, 1,149 of those are managed by hosts with multiple properties on the site. This represents 20 percent of local listings.
- 3,812 of these listings are private rooms or shared spaces.
- Of the 5,636 entire home listings, 4,487 are shared ostensibly legally by hosts with only one entire home listing though this does not prove that the listing is also their primary residence. The release also does not detail how many of these homes are shared more than the legal 90 days per year.
- Out of the 1,149 homes managed by hosts with more than listing, the company claims that only 671 appear to be in violation of the law, being managed by 288 hosts, who will be the initial focus of this crackdown.
This echoes an independent study in January that said that just over 22 percent of Airbnb's revenue in San Francisco was generated illegally, by hosts violating local law. In their release today, the company says that these short-term, entire-home hosts with multiple listings represent 17 percent of total host revenue.
Contrast these numbers with those that the company bandied about 10 months ago, when they asserted that only about 348 units were being kept off the long-term rental market and rented full time via Airbnb.
While not every city has passed a law restricting the use of Airbnb quite like San Francisco's law, places like New York, New Orleans, Paris, and Berlin have all seen similar backlash against the growing company in recent years, as the Chronicle reports.
And, in fact, SF's law is lenient by comparison: New Orleans outlaws all rentals of less than 60 days in the French Quarter, or less than 30 days in other parts of town; and New York outlaws the rental of entire units in multiple-unit buildings, and only allows rental of rooms where hosts are present in the unit, per Nolo.com.
Airbnb spent a reported $8 million this past fall fighting Prop F, which sought to further tighten Airbnb restrictions and ostensibly make complaints from neighbors easier, but now according to the Chronicle, the company is promising to add features on the site itself that allow for neighbor complaints, so that the company may begin dealing with these internally.
As for whether this change of heart in San Francisco and effort to make good on its promise to crack down on scofflaw hosts will be nationwide, the company isn't making any promises that they'll be doing anything similar in other cities.
Per the company's release:
As we said in [The Airbnb Community Compact], each city is unique and one size fits all approach will not work. We are taking this action in San Francisco to make good on the commitment we outlined in the Community Compact to help prevent short-term rentals from impacting the availability and cost of housing in cities that have had historic housing challenges. We are committed to treating every city personally and providing solutions that allow everyday people to share their homes so they can make ends meet while also addressing local concerns.
Airbnb's impending SF crackdown follows on an ongoing one by the city's Office of Short-Term Rentals, which in December reported having issued $400,000 in penalties so far to 37 different properties.