Friday, November 6, 2015

San Francisco's Anti-Airbnb Proposition Narrowly Fails

Short-term home or apartment rentals, usually through online platforms like Airbnb and VRBO, have been steeped with controversy in recent months. Some cities have even tried to ban such rentals while others have embraced them wholeheartedly. Most recently, San Francisco put forth a proposition to limit the ability of landlords to use such websites for renting their property. Tracey Lien, in her L.A. Times article, discusses how Airbnb affects both landlords and tenants, and how this new Proposition F may affect the city.

The controversy behind services like Airbnb is mainly one of a fight between a capitalist economic theory and one in which people deserve fair treatment. On the one side, tenants in San Francisco fear that the increasing prevalence of Airbnb will eventually lead the owners of their rented homes and apartments to evict them in favor of the larger sums paid by short-term renters. It is these tenants who would vote for the proposition since it limits landlords' use of Airbnb and their ability to turn normal rentals into short-term ones quickly. The proposition aims to prevent or at least slow down the conversion of apartment buildings into pseudo-hotels.

Some see it differently. While services like Airbnb could convince landlords to evict tenants in favor of the faster income, the free market could take care of any issues that arise from it. Eventually, if enough landlords raised prices enough to match the rising demand by tourists, ten the average worker would not be able to afford to live in the city. If workers are forced to move out, then business and regular city work will grind to a halt, When the economy halts in such a way, tourists will not want to visit, which will force landlords to lower their prices back to normal rates in order to get tenants. While this situation could probably work itself out, Proposition F aims to avoid it altogether.

Even for some landlords, Airbnb has uncomfortable implications. One Balboa Park resident, who had only ever rented his units out on a long-term basis voted against Proposition F. He worried that his tenants might use Airbnb to rent out his unit for short-term stays, a concept that he wasn't completely comfortable with. However,different from many tenants, he said that he would have voted yes on the proposition if he was in their shoes for that same reason: the ability to rent out the apartment in which one is living while out of town for short periods of time.

Unfortunately for those passionate about the topic, voter turnout for the proposition was extremely low. In-person votes were in the low hundreds, and mail-in votes reached about 9,000. In the end, Airbnb beat the bill, but even while celebrating, the San Francisco-based company expects further assaults in the near future. They believe that the proposition failed mainly due to its highly specific and extreme stance regarding the short-term rentals. Even so, the vote was close, with about 45% of voters supporting the proposition. Airbnb fears, rightfully, that behind the scenes, lawmakers in places like Los Angeles and San Diego may be getting ready to start the fight all over again.

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