As of noon today, there are roughly 6,500 listings for illegal short-term rentals in San Francisco on Airbnb alone.

For as of February 1, 2015, unless a residential unit in San Francisco has been registered with the city and received a unique registration number from the Planning Department, it’s not only illegal to rent the unit, or a bedroom within, for less than 30 days, but it’s also illegal to simply list the unit for rent on a short-term basis without its registration number included atop the listing.

And considering that today was the first day that applications to register a unit started being accepted, in person and by appointment only, there isn’t a single residential unit that can legally be listed for rent, much less rented, on a short-term basis in San Francisco at the moment.

Of course, prior to February 1, it was already illegal to rent a residential unit in San Francisco on a short-term basis, but the law was rarely, if ever, enforced and the number of units listed for rent in San Francisco has more than tripled over the past three years.

Time will tell if enforcement of the new law, or rather a lack thereof, will be more of the same.

Keep in mind that the new law also requires hosting platforms, such as Airbnb, to notify its users of the requirement to register a unit prior to it being legally listed, but it doesn’t require the platforms to either police or enforce the law, despite the fact that the amended law was effectively passed in order to allow the platforms to operate.

72 thoughts on “Listings For Over 6,000 Illegal Rentals In S.F. On Airbnb Alone”
  1. I can’t help but think the City will see the financial success of AirBnB code enforcement as huge $$ profit center, similar to graffiti abatement notices I see plastered weekly on buildings in the Divisadero and Alamo Square neighborhood.

    1. Consider how much it costs the city to process complaints, investigate alledged violations, notify violators, and follow up to ensure compliance. The city will have to hire more staff to do this enforcement.

      1. What if folks start to fake AirBnB their prior residences and homes of people they disliked? And then notified the city?

        I am still waiting to see the fallout from the City’s licensed taxi service vs. Uber.

  2. There are a few outfits that will handle the logistics of your listing for a fee. I wonder how they are handling this. Advising the owners to go legit or just play dumb?

    My bet is that this will be similar inoutcome to the handicap parking permit charade. Most do not deserve it and yet the city doesn’t do squat to enforce it. Politicians prefer politicking and creating new laws rather than enforcing them…

    1. According to the ordinance, any agent or company that takes a fee is required to comply with the law and is liable for penalties as well. The penalties include $1000 fee for first violation plus paying SF’s enforcement and legal costs. A violation can also be charged as a misdemeanor.

      SF gov’t has repeatedly said enforcement will be complaint driven. The ordinance lays out the process. Enforcement was complaint driven prior to this ordinance, so this gives people a way to be legal, but doesn’t fund any greater enforcement. And who knows maybe this time SF really really means it.

      Handicap parking permits are given out by the state. The city isn’t involved unless they catch someone in the act of misusing the permit. I think the abuse tends to be worst where the payoff is greatest, like downtown SF vs parking where it is free and/or abundant. I suspect there will be a stronger incentive to illegally host in North Beach or Nob Hill than in Excelsior or Outer Sunset.

  3. Gotta love Ed Lee’s tightrope walk here. Housing costs are the #1 issue, the obvious thing would be to reclaim a few thousand units of relatively affordable supply by enforcing the law. Except he’s in bed with Airbnb’s investors so he can’t do that.

  4. I am a landlord. I would never put my one rent-controlled unit on the market given the existing rent-control laws. *Never*. I’ll just keep it empty for friends and family. If you want to lower the cost of renting, and increase the rental stock in any meaningful way, you must change rent control laws.

    1. You sure sound smart, denying yourself the money you could make by renting that unit out to someone. It may be rent controlled, but that’s extra monthly income that you’re passing up, out of spite for the city (LOL…cut off your nose, to spite your face?). Sounds like money must not be much of an issue for you. Not to mention someone who couldn’t otherwise afford SF could definitely use and appreciate the rent-controlled unit.

      Here’s what will actually make rents come down in a meaningful way: a lot more housing.

      1. “You sure sound smart, denying yourself the money you could make by renting that unit out to someone.”

        For many landlords being out money is less important than not being stuck with somebody in your building for a lifetime. This isn’t just one or two people making a decision to be out of money – we are talking over ten thousand units being held off the market because the risks of renting outweigh the benefits for many small landlords.

        Money isn’t everything in this equation. Forcing landlords into terrible, lifetime one-sided contracts makes some decisions very easy.

        1. Not enforcing the laws against illegal hotels also makes some decisions very easy. Raise the risk of enforcement and the benefits of going legal will be more apparent.

          “Rent control made me do it” is a lame rationalization for a profitable illegal activity.

      2. Rents have spiraled out of control. They’re at historically unprecedented levels. And you deny yourself this money? You are either a poor businessman, or a troll.

        1. “They’re at historically unprecedented levels. And you deny yourself this money?”

          If you already have rent controlled tenants in your buildings you can’t get that unprecedented money. Not sure why people are so insistent on second-guessing choices that the owners of 10-15K unrented units have made. Obviously the people who have made those decisions have made them for reasons that make sense to them. For some it is money, for some it is flexibility, for some it is because they have been burned by an insane tenant in the past. The common problem is rent control has made the decision to not rent one that is taken by more and more rental owners.

          1. One of the things that some people forget is that many of these landlords also live in the building themselves. It’s one thing to leave a unit vacant in a building in which you do not live, but it’s an entirely different decision when one lives in the building. The fear of having a problem tenant that cannot be evicted is the primary reason I hear for leaving units vacant.

            On my block of 2 unit buildings, I know of at least 4 vacant flats that the owners are using for friends and family rather than renting to tenants. In each case, it is the fear of being locked into a long term tenancy with a problem tenant. Does this make financial sense? No, but peace of mind is sometimes priceless.

        2. you’re both unnecessarily mean and totally wrong. he said he keeps it for visiting friends and family. grow up + realize his m.o. is common in sf

        3. Rents in SF have always been at unprecedented levels since the ordinance was enacted. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen rents drop temporarily. In SF landlording is not a business because it is a diminishing monthly life estate that only a sucker would do. On top of that, you can’t trust the Gang of 4 – they will always change the law to benefit a tenant and screw a landlord.

      3. FBG sounds like one of those tenant minded people satisfied living month-to-month without contemplating the future consequences of their action. Its funny how money doesn’t mean that much to those of us free market real capitalists but it seems to mean the world to the communists.

        I too will never rent out my multiple gorgeous 3br units because that game is for suckers. Good for you Real Person!!! DONT BE A SUCKA!

    2. if you never rent your “one rent-controlled unit” then at least for that unit you are not a landlord, you are just another speculator seeking to increase your wealth by legislation instead of by offering a good or service.

  5. End Rent Control, and Airbnb will disappear.
    Give Mom & Pops a break on all the crazy rental laws …. That changed about 7 times last year alone.
    Many owners are keeping plenty units off the market.

    1. Airbnb’s business doesn’t depend on rent control here or anywhere else. But may as well keep throwing anti-rent control nonsense and see if it sticks.

      1. The success of airbnb in SF is loosely correlated with the presence of rent control laws. My unit would be on the regular market without rent control. Instead, I list it as 30+ days corporate housing. Also, some of my guests are regularly extending their stay because they cannot find anything decent for rent, another effect of rent control. The people I welcome are mostly transplants looking to stay in SF.

        1. Airbnb is successful so widely around the world exactly because their business model does not depend on these minor local regulation differences. Local laws like rent control and the new San Francisco hosting law may shape which properties are offered through Airbnb and who is willing to run their own business within Airbnb, but it doesn’t make the market. They simply couldn’t scale if that were the case.

          Airbnb is a specialized P2P platform, just like craigslist, ebay, and etsy before them. If it wasn’t you and your unit in San Francisco, it would be someone else filling the niche, just like in thousands of other cities that don’t have anything like our peculiar property laws.

          It is like you are confusing why particular types of trees in a local forest are preferred for harvest with the universal need for lumber. You know Paris much better than I do. How have their laws influenced which units and owners go Airbnb? And how does that affect the profitability of Airbnb there compared to San Francisco?

          1. I agree mostly with you. Yes there is demand for airbnb because SF is highly desirable and that’s the main reason for the success in SF. And I agree that airbnb fills a niche that was mostly unfulfilled before except if you were ready to land in soul-sucking places like Extended Stay America and such. But there is an influence of rent control over the market that I should mention: pricing. I do airbnb because I will not put my place on the regular market. The pricing is where rent control matters. Since I have no penchant for anything masochist, I will try and go for an income similar to what I could get on the regular market. And since I really want to maximize my efforts I will apply the price that guarantees me the best outcome, which is roughly 30% more than a vacant rental, and a fill rate in the 90% range. I get ahead when all extra costs are included. My prices are directly correlated to the rental market. If I made less, I would look for an alternative (selling, for instance) but only if what I make is more than 20% less. SF allows me to stay in the sweet spot, but this depends a lot on the local economy therefore time will tell. Plus with all the newly “illegal” listings, I ender how much will switch to my model…

            About Paris, I am still experimenting with airbnb. I started on another platform 10 years ago which educated me in the dos and don’ts of Paris for furnished stays. Tourist rental: you have to be registered, like in SF (but nobody does it) and a whole lot of paperwork. Most of my tenants are foreign students. A 9-month stay duration is entirely legal but an airbnb lease will not have all the legalese necessary. I have a template I will use for my leases that is specific for 9 months to go legit. Also, almost all tenants will need the paperwork for the purpose of getting housing aid (THE FRENCH SUBSIDIZE YOUR RENT BASED ON YOUR MEANS – TAKE THAT, RENT CONTROL). Airbnb is actually is a great way to hunt for tenants, better than the older platform which was impersonal and took a much bigger cut from the tenant to maintain all those people checking IDs, incomes and whatnot. Airbnb is more fun than older systems, and less daunting. No need for the masses of paperwork to apply, and I will skip 90% of the paperwork for people with a good rep.

            For the summer, my place in Paris becomes the fallback plan when we move around. We use it for the trading value as well. We will have family or friends over, for instance a friend in SF who will always help me out if I need to put an airbnb guest somewhere at the last minute in the Castro. Or a Paris neighbor who handles the keys and will put her kids in there when they come visit.

          2. Thanks for the info. By making it easier to connect and reducing some of the transaction friction/cost, Airbnb opens up the market to more players. So, they definitely grow the market.

            I have friends that have hosted foreign students for years. The Academy of Art in San Francisco has many student housing buildings and a long history of violating land-use rules with impunity. Don’t expect much of a crackdown, just not our style.

            One of the moments when I knew ebay was a serious business was when a friend’s wife quite her job as a lawyer to sell antiques fulltime on ebay. There are some stories of people in San Francisco doing that with airbnb, but mostly it has been people that were already RE professionals. Maybe one day you will quit your day job and become a pure lord of the 30+ day land.

          3. Yes one key word you mentioned is friction. Airbnb makes a lot of things easier. Each party handles his own financial side and the only partner you deal with is airbnb. The person to person relationship is simplified. Reviews are a great factor for people being nicer to each other. You can also decide to rent based on what you see online from the person. If someone has a LinkedIn presence, FB friends, verified ID and a coherent reason to be there I will approve very quickly.

          1. “Airbnb’s business doesn’t depend on rent control here or anywhere else. But may as well keep throwing anti-rent control nonsense and see if it sticks.”

            Airbnb is enthusiastically embraced by SF prop owners precisely because it circumvents RC. In other words, no RC in SF and there would be a lot less airbnb listings in SF. RC added many more airbnb listings. Kapish?

  6. Does anyone know if an owner wants to do a 30 day or longer rental period (such as a corporate rental for people who are relocating) if the new law applies and registering as an “AirBnB” type rental must occur with the Planning Department? I assume the owner’s risk with 30 day or longer rental period is that the person becomes a tenant after 30 days, but maybe the rental agreement can be drafted in such a way to make sure that does not happen.

    [Editor’s Note: Only units being rented, or offered for rent, for stays of less than 30 days need to be registered with the city.]

    1. So offer your unit for rent for 31, 32, 33, etc. days for rent (with the additional days free.) Or for a two week rental, say it is two weeks free rent. So many options.

      The City is so behind the times. I received a Jury Summons for a deceased relative. Was tempted to show up and give the judge a good dressing down. Spoke to the court clerk to find out where they are getting their jury lists. Voters registration lists, she said. Well, deceased relative has not received her absentee ballot in over a year so that doesn’t explain it. Maybe our list is over a year old. Fill out the form anyway and mail it back to us with the deceased box checked, she said. Next time I am @ 400 McAllister St., someone will get an earful from me.

    2. Yes, the guest will be entitled to a regular lease. Which is why I do not advise you to do it if you do not have a business model in mind. If your plan is to lease at the regular rental rate, then your tenant will have a lease AND use of the furniture. He will never want to leave! It happened to a neighbor. He underpriced his place at a time when rents were going up pretty fast. Now his tenant pays 15% under market rate WITH furniture!!!

      1. I think I understand your corporate rental model. Thank you for this, I plan to do this with my rental flat.

        I found this page and it seems that CAF is a French national plan. Isn’t our Section 8 housing assistance plan about the same?

        1. CAF is a social benefit entity. They are responsible for a wide range of benefit payment.

          It is very different from section 8. There is no stigma in France for receiving CAF housing assistance. And many in the middle class will collect 200 or 300 Euros. Say you rent your pad for 1500 Euros and your income is 3000. You could be entitled to subsidies to lower your housing costs. It’s a great way for students or young workers to get started in a rental. As your income increases, your benefits will decrease. The first year you are almost certain to collect something because it is based on last year’s income. I collected some assistance on my first job / first real apartment rental in Paris and I wasn’t really poor.

  7. A rather judgmental title given they just began accepting applications a few days ago. Could not have been composed a Campos any better.

    1. It’s a fair title. Before 2/1/15, ALL short-term airbnb rentals in SF were illegal (with rare exceptions). Ed. is just noting there is no way all (or any) of these listings have become legal under the new regulatory structure. I.e. it did not really change anything.

  8. Don’t have a dog in this fight, but I’m kinda rooting for the “lawbreakers” here. SF rent control is an arcane totalitarian system that deserves to die. It’s a shame for all the honest, hard-working would-be tenants but the extremists have basically ruined SF for them. I’m not in favor of black-market economies, but just like it takes the rise of Uber to overthrow the taxi monopoly, Airbnb is a necessary means to ending the tyranny of rent control. Will be interesting to see if the [Board of Supervisors] will liberalize it in time or else it’s headed for outright abolition.

    1. One can always dream. These things tend to move into one direction only.

      Supe creates a new rule. New rule backfires, create a new rule! New rule to counter backfire backfires itself. Time for another new rule! Rince, repeat, look in dismay as rents go up and up and up.

  9. The Campos Communists think that they can force rent control down the throats of the landlords. It is true – they can – unless a landlord’s bankroll is big enough to just not play the game. The irony here is that Campos, Kim, Avalos and Mar actually create the gentrification. Their policies continue to eliminate the rent controlled housing stock. I have a non-rent controlled building that some young engineers will be working their butts off to pay me my rent. As for my rent-controlled stuff: I prefer not to play and I can afford not to. If you are tenant that has voted for these idiots I hope you know that you have signed your own eviction notice because it is only a matter of time. Me & SanFronzi will laugh at the EvictionFreeSF crowd years from now when they are commuting from Pittsburgh/BayPoint.

  10. I just checked Airbnb. There’s lots of listings, maybe not as much as before but certainly no shortage. I doubt all these listings have managed to comply with the law. I wonder if there is any easy way to look up if a host has complied with the law? Or do you need the property address? The way the listings look in most cases it would require visiting the property.

  11. To the Editor: the Campos article is EXACTLY why owners choose to Airbnb over renting to regular people.
    Campos, Mar, Avalos & Kim – create ridiculous laws and many owners choose to opt out of the regular rental game.
    We keep tens of thousands of units off the market. When will the BOS publicly admit this.

    1. They will never admit it because it is their means of gerrymandering and controlling the mindless sheep. Instead, they cry “Landlords are evil! Rent Control!” all while their policies fail. But who cares when their policies fail? The weak are shipped to Reno and they solidify power and their 80% pensions. However, if you are lucky enough to be the developer of some prime Transbay land, your friends let you play by a whole different set of rules.

    1. There is a SF Examiner article about how city officials were surprised and disappointed at the low registration numbers. They were expecting hundreds. There is talk about amending the law to give enforcement more teeth ie. requiring AirBnB to advertise and list units w/ valid registration numbers.

  12. Airbnb is setting up a petition to ask Supervisors to cut some of the red tape that they claim wasn’t part of the law.

    Here is the text:


    Dear Supervisors and Planning Commissioners:

    After two years of discussion, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted for new rules for home sharing. San Francisco is the home of innovation and technologies that have changed the way we live, work and do business, so it makes sense that our city should be a leader in the new sharing economy.

    Home sharers are working hard to follow the rules, but today, some bureaucrats are creating new obstacles.

    The Planning Department has instituted a series of requirements, many of which are not part of the law. For example, hosts have to set aside time to visit the Planning Department in person, bring copies of their lease (which the law does not require), and sign unnecessary documents regarding collection of occupancy taxes (which Airbnb already does on behalf of its hosts).

    And that is just the beginning.

    These bureaucratic barriers are making it harder for hosts to share their homes and follow the rules – for no good reason. Home sharers are confused and discouraged by this unnecessary complexity. And it’s a process that shouldn’t be acceptable in the community that is committed to embracing technology and innovation.

    We don’t need more red tape. We need to work together to make it easier to follow the rules, not harder.

    That’s why we’re asking you to make some common-sense changes, such as:

    Require all City offices to make all necessary forms available online, and end the in-person meeting requirement;

    Prevent the Planning Department from requiring residents to turn over their private lease documents;

    Acknowledge that Airbnb is already collecting and remitting taxes on behalf of its hosts – so hosts do not need to pay the same tax twice.

    San Francisco has shown that we can come together to create some sensible rules for home sharing. Let’s implement these rules fairly.

    Thank you

    1. While I am all for eliminating any unnecessary bureaucracy, how is the city going to know if you have the right to host/sublet your place if you don’t produce any documentation?
      The law requires that the unit is your primary residence. The law also requires a business license, which is cheap and easy to get and includes a proper document. How are they going to determine that someone has these if they don’t see them in person? A nice photoshopped doc set send in an email or uploaded to
      Are these people serious? In the time it takes to sign the petition, they can make an appointment. There are also after hours drop in times with no appointment. It is a one time effort. The law doesn’t make them do this over and over for the same property. If this is too much bother, just wait until the city adds inspections, and insurance requirements, and …
      The application is available online (namelink to rules and regs and docs). One page of basic info and signature.

      1. The proof is in the pudding. With the current set-up and additional constraints the process is obviously not bringing the numbers it expected.

        I agree with you that many of the hosts are probably doing it without the agreement of their landlords and that’s a major sticking point. Then what will the city do about these? Aside from making fake bookings how can they figure the identities of the hosts? 311 calls, that’s how… Otherwise any enforcement will have to do with breaking the privacy wall, asking airbnb for IDs, doing sleuth work (time consuming / inefficient / random luck).

        Personally having less competition from illegal sublets would enable me to raise my rate again 😉

        1. Lawlessness is its own reward. SF has been very lenient in enforcing the laws wrt to these illegal rentals.

          Airbnb and other hosting platforms are already collecting and paying the 14% SF tax. All SF has to do is require them to itemize the transactions including addresses and listing agent/person when they submit their tax reporting data. We know they have all this data and can easily produce it. Then a simple join against the registry will identify illegal rentals.

          Send all the outlaws a one time get legal or else letter, wait a month, and then go after the ones that haven’t registered. Repeat each month with the new tax data from the hosting companies, forever.

          And if that doesn’t work or sounds like too much work, just amend the law to prohibit the listing companies from listing any unregistered properties. The current law holds property management companies responsible for only listing registered properties on Airbnb, easy to extend that to the actual sales and marketing agent (Airbnb etc).

          The only reason this law or some modified form of it won’t be enforced would be if the gov’t doesn’t want to enforce it, not because it is hard or would cross some sacred human rights boundaries.

          That Airbnb is already organizing opposition to the law is outrageous and hopefully will backfire.

          1. Well, you are providing a logical way to deal with this. If logic was ruling SF, our housing policy would be very different. And airbnb has learned that you can just say no like in NYC for list requests.

          2. I think in NY state Airbnb is disputing what the laws require it to do, including collect tax. I don’t follow it closely, but the state AG is using subpoenas to get info, so not a friendly io channel.

            SF needs to write the laws and regs to make it is easy to comply and confirm compliance. But yeah, that’s not the habit in this world city.

            It may turn out that as long as Airbnb etc pay enough taxes, SF will be lazy and unfair enforcing the part of the law on who and how much renting can happen. Then Airbnb gets the maximum listings, SF maxes taxes, and the pain is spread out among the neighbors and unwitting landlords. Wouldn’t be the first time.

          3. Some combination of Airbnb paying enough taxes and Airbnb investors making enough campaign donations.

          4. Well, I think both you guys have a point on the tax revenue side. After all, limiting short term stays to no more than 25% of a calendar year deprives the city of millions in occupancy tax.

            a quick back-of-envelope calculation to have a rough idea of how much money we’re talking about.

            Typical airbnb stay = $150/night
            Number of airbnb places in SF >= 6000
            How many open for short term? 80%?
            Fill rate? A conservative 40% to take into account occasional hosts. I get 93% for long term. A guy renting his week-ends will get 25%.

            The hosting revenue for SF should be in the range of $100M/year

            at a 14% occupancy rate, the city could earn in the range of $14M annually. Limiting to 1/4 of the year, they’ll be losing out on 10M+ or enough to provide weekly toenail salon services (including the little fish dead skin treatment) to the entire homeless population.

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