Rental sites like Airbnb aren’t as innocuous as they pretend

(LA TIMES) Michael Hiltzik — You could look at the recent proposals to clamp down on San Francisco’s short-term housing rental market as the city’s attempt to call Airbnb’s bluff.

Airbnb is the high-tech start-up that allows residents or owners of homes and apartments to connect online with would-be renters of their spare couches, rooms or entire units. The firm, the most prominent of several “room-sharing” sites operating nationally, says its “typical single-property host” rents out space for 66 days a year, which sounds fairly innocuous.

So San Francisco, like Los Angeles, New York and some other cities, is offering to go easy on modest “sharing,” in return for the collection of lodging taxes and strict enforcement of the rules against turning housing into unlicensed hotels.

The pushback from Airbnb suggests that there’s more to the phenomenon than a few families making a few bucks. Airbnb describes the influx of casual lodgers into residential neighborhoods as though it’s an unalloyed blessing. In an appeal this spring directed at small-business owners in San Francisco, the firm bragged that “72% of Airbnb properties are outside of traditional hotel districts, in neighborhoods that haven’t benefited from tourism in the past.” That’s a boon to businesses in those outlying districts, the firm implied.

City officials and many of their constituents aren’t so sure. “We want short-term rentals to be part of San Francisco,” says Dave Campos, a San Francisco County supervisor who proposed stricter regulations. “But there’s a commercial short-term rental industry that buys entire buildings and rents them all out. That’s changing the character of the neighborhood and taking housing stock away from people who need it.”

Source: LA Times – Rental sites like Airbnb aren’t as innocuous as they pretend