Santa Monica says "Later, dude!" to AirBnB
May 14, 2015 9:28 AM   Subscribe

Tuesday night, the Santa Monica (CA) City Council unanimously passed one of the most restrictive laws in the nation on short-term rentals. The ordinance (which strengthens and enforces laws already on the books) explicitly bans vacation rentals – rentals of 30 days or less where the primary occupant of the home or apartment is not present – while legalizing and taxing “home-sharing” – i.e. renting a couch, spare room or backyard cottage - providing at least one of the primary residents lives on-site throughout the stay. Santa Monica (pop. 92K) receives over 7 million visitors annually; Salvador Valles, the city's acting chief administrative officer for Planning and Community Development, estimates the number of available listings on home-share sites would go from 1700 to 300. The ordinance goes into effect June 15.

posted by Room 641-A (80 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
From the article, what they actually did was budget for enforcement of a law they already had, and to liberalize home share rentals (where the owner or lease-holder stays on site throughout the visit).
posted by klangklangston at 9:38 AM on May 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


So is this something to be happy about, or sad?
posted by leotrotsky at 9:39 AM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


AirBnB is used in a really hideous way by a lot of people in NYC, who essentially run unregulated multi-apartment hotels as their full-time job. But on the other hand, doing away with it completely would eliminate something I think is really positive, which is the ability to make a quick extra buck in a very expensive city by renting out your couch for a night or three. So this law seems pretty decent.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:44 AM on May 14, 2015 [9 favorites]


"Now we got a nice quiet little beach community here, and I aim to keep it nice and quiet. So let me make something plain. I don't like you sucking around bothering our citizens, AirBnB. I don't like your jerk-off name, I don't like your jerk-off face, I don't like your jerk-off behavior, and I don't like you, jerk-off. Do I make myself clear?"
posted by tempestuoso at 9:45 AM on May 14, 2015 [33 favorites]


Dumb dumb dumb.

All this will do is really drive the market back underground.

A light regulatory touch could have brought the situation under control but I guess, as always, City Councillors will side with the business that can buy them off. In this case hotels.
posted by srboisvert at 9:46 AM on May 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


Of course. Never did an entrenched business interest watch the hotter, better, more efficient competition climb up out of a previously unoccupied niche and say "hmm, guess they're doing something right, we should up our game". Instead it's all whining and wailing and gnashing of teeth and running over to the lobbyists. I'm so tired of it.
posted by Mars Saxman at 9:47 AM on May 14, 2015 [13 favorites]


So is this something to be happy about, or sad?

Depends - if you're a guest who likes to stay in a place and have it all to yourself, this is bad news. But if you're on a fixed income and have a spare room you can rent out and you'll be there when the guests are there, it's good news. (It's also good if you like the idea of renting a room but having the host on-site to hang out with or something.)

Sounds not dissimilar from NYC - there's not been any AirBnB-specific ordinance yet, but existing laws frown on 30-days-or-less sublets anyway, so some hosts have been starting to quietly abide by that. I have friends who own two properties and rent in Brooklyn, and have all three listed on AirBnB - they have already made the policy change to not accept any short-term bookings in Brooklyn.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:49 AM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


So it's back to Craigslist we go? I still use it more than AirBnB anyway.
posted by ReeMonster at 9:50 AM on May 14, 2015


Cities should legalize, regulate, and tax AirBNBs (even those where the homeowner isn't present). The benefits for travelers vastly outweigh the slight annoyance of a few neighbors.
posted by miyabo at 9:50 AM on May 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


>>which is the ability to make a quick extra buck in a very expensive city by renting out your couch for a night or three. So this law seems pretty decent.

Every bit of land on the islands was owned by only about forty people, and, in the story, Trout had those people decide to exercise their property rights to the full. They put up no trespassing signs on everything. This created terrible problems for the million other people on the islands. The law of gravity required that they stick somewhere on the surface. Either that, or they could go out into the water and bob offshore. But then the Federal Government came through with an emergency program. It gave a big balloon full of helium to every man, woman and child who didn't own property. There was a cable with a harness on it dangling from each balloon. With the help of the balloons, Hawaiians could go on inhabiting the islands without always sticking to things other people owned.
posted by Nevin at 9:52 AM on May 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yeah, who cares about the neighbors who are actually trying to live there...
posted by Windopaene at 9:52 AM on May 14, 2015 [37 favorites]


I will be watching this with interest. I know Montreal was wanting to crack down on Air BnB the last time I checked, so it's not surprising that a city did something about that pesky sector of people who want to travel but can't afford most hotels for long stays market. (In agreement, though, about people who don't live in their properties and just rent them on there; that is super shitty, esp in big big cities.)
posted by Kitteh at 9:53 AM on May 14, 2015


Cities should legalize, regulate, and tax AirBNBs (even those where the homeowner isn't present). The benefits for travelers vastly outweigh the slight annoyance of a few neighbors.

Or all the people who cannot afford to actually rent those locations and live there because AirBnB allows property owners to slide easily into a virtually unregulated sphere of profit, thereby making housing even *less* affordable in a place where you already have to be crazy well off to afford.
posted by chimaera at 9:58 AM on May 14, 2015 [30 favorites]


From the first article:

One man told council that he has to rent out his second bedroom to afford to live in Santa Monica. Mayor Kevin McKeown explained that he’d still be able to do that under the ordinance as long as he remains on-site. The speaker said he didn’t want to pay the proposed taxes — a statement that drew laughs from the audience in the Council chambers. A subsequent speaker pointed out that if he can’t afford to live here, he should downgrade from a two-bedroom apartment to a one-bedroom apartment.

Occasionally, I am dumbfounded by the ignorance of normal people when it comes to housing.

The bedroom is a fraction of the livable space in an apartment and is why it gets more affordable per bedroom the more of them there are to live there. A $1,500 two-bedroom does not become a $750 one-bedroom if the other room is taken away. It usually becomes a $1,250 one-bedroom and $1,000 more expensive for the two people who could have lived together.

I find it particularly unnerving that we cannot find a sensible policy solution that enables the good (apartments over hotels in cities I visit - yay) without providing a platform for the bad (creating unaffordable housing markets and skirting tax laws.) Trying to work with the existing tourism and taxi lobbies (I have done this locally) is impossible - they are protectionist beasts who want nothing to change. Tech companies will not get off the idea that this is sales activity and not sharing.

So instead, these silly, protectionist battles have to go on in every community rather than a progressive conversation about how we might satisfy an obvious demand for something other than corporate hotels to stay in.

I stay in B & Bs where I can because I can't deal with the sterile, bland hotel environment (and I like the idea of paying a person rather than a corporation), but the product being provided on the AirBnB/VRBO environment is exactly what I want (a house full of amenities and nobody overseeing me) and it's unfortunate that the only way for the market to satisfy this obviously huge demand in a meaningful way is to take it away from locals.
posted by buoys in the hood at 10:02 AM on May 14, 2015 [16 favorites]


This is so conflicting for me. I hate what AirBNB has done to some housing markets, and I hate the idea of it being used by slumlords to retain huge profits while not treating renters decently and ultimately not giving a shit about residents at all.

But fucking Hell, do I ever love using it. In smaller cities and towns--some without hotels!--it's such a great service. And I love going to a new little place, meeting the owner on their way out the door, and having them welcome me in and show me the place, tell me what to do in town, etc. It's just friendly and nice, when done well, and I know some of that is a mask over what is actually a sort of nasty tech-world free market capitalism 'sharing economy' type of ideology, but fuck if AirBNB is not pleasant when it works.
posted by still bill at 10:04 AM on May 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


One man told council that he has to rent out his second bedroom to afford to live in Santa Monica. Mayor Kevin McKeown explained that he’d still be able to do that under the ordinance as long as he remains on-site. The speaker said he didn’t want to pay the proposed taxes — a statement that drew laughs from the audience in the Council chambers. A subsequent speaker pointed out that if he can’t afford to live here, he should downgrade from a two-bedroom apartment to a one-bedroom apartment.

Yeah, that's just totally hilarious. In so many ways I'm not sure where to start unpacking it all.

Am I reading it wrong? In order to have a roommate, you have to get a business license and pay additional taxes on said business?
posted by instead of three wishes at 10:04 AM on May 14, 2015


This seems like it applies to VRBO more than it does to AirBNB. I like VRBOing when I travel, since it's a good way to get a short-term house or apartment and feel like you're really living in that town rather than someone else's guest.

But in the last couple of years it's started to feel less like a Vacation Rental By Owner, and more like a shambolic version of the long-term hotel suite industry. These are businesses with their own web pages and booking systems that happen to advertise on VRBO, not private citizens with guest houses.

If that's true, then the enforcement of this law makes sense. These businesses aren't doing very much new, they're just sneaking through loopholes to avoid fair competition in a super-popular tourist destination.

It would be great if Santa Monica could write its laws to allow nice people to rent out their "mother-in-law" houses while restricting property management empires, but: (1) that may be impossible to distinguish, and (2) in a town where home prices now top $5 Million, there may not be very many cases of "oh I'm just a little old lady who happens to own two houses!"
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 10:06 AM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


More regulation is clearly needed, but I'm not convinced that this is the best possible approach
posted by Dip Flash at 10:06 AM on May 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


I find it particularly unnerving that we cannot find a sensible policy solution that enables the good (apartments over hotels in cities I visit - yay) without providing a platform for the bad (creating unaffordable housing markets and skirting tax laws.) Trying to work with the existing tourism and taxi lobbies (I have done this locally) is impossible - they are protectionist beasts who want nothing to change. Tech companies will not get off the idea that this is sales activity and not sharing.

So instead, these silly, protectionist battles have to go on in every community rather than a progressive conversation about how we might satisfy an obvious demand for something other than corporate hotels to stay in.


Probaby there should be some kind of threshold. Renting a secondary unit in your owner-occupied house, or renting out your primary place of residence for not more than some limit per year (3 months?) is unrestricted, with anything over that and any rental of a non-primary residence -- anything that indicates that you are operating as a business, basically -- triggers hotel regulations and taxes.
posted by junco at 10:09 AM on May 14, 2015 [9 favorites]


In order to have a roommate, you have to get a business license and pay additional taxes on said business?

If you want to rent out a room for less than 30 day terms. We don't usually call those people roommates.
posted by muddgirl at 10:10 AM on May 14, 2015 [29 favorites]


Seems like a fair enough distinction to me. It's the difference between having paying houseguests and running a hotel on the sly. The former has two advantages; you have a lot more skin in the game in terms of minimizing bad behavior that impacts your neighbors, because it's going to impact you first; and you are not disrupting the housing market since there is no longer an advantage in buying up residential properties to turn them into illicit hotels.

So people who need extra income to keep their home can get it, and people who want to profiteer get put out of business. And of course, if the latter truly want to run a hotel they can still go into the business, it isn't like there aren't hotels and motels and B&Bs in Santa Monica. It's just that they will have to follow the same regulations and licensing as everyone else in the business.

There's a small group of valid rentals that would be lost, the occasional person who is taking a week or two of vacation away and would like to rent out their place in the meantime, but there are such things as vacation swaps and such alternatives.
posted by tavella at 10:10 AM on May 14, 2015 [12 favorites]


Am I reading it wrong? In order to have a roommate, you have to get a business license and pay additional taxes on said business?

No no, if the person is living there for more than 30 days then none of this applies.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:10 AM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Benjamen Walker's Theory of Everything recently did a three-parter on New York after AirBnB (called New York After Rent). Whatever it was intended as, AirBnB has created a circumstance where a small handful of people have taken over massive amounts of real estate in New York to convert them into unlicensed and unregulated hotels. We're talking entire city blocks' worth of apartments. This is managing to drive prices up and make sure that a growing number of a neighborhood's inhabitants -- full time inhabitants, mind you, as the AirBnB people rarely live in the apartments they lease -- are temporary and not local, and reduce the number of people who are actual residents of a neighborhood that are committed to its long-term health.

It's not simply a new business model. It's extraordinarily disruptive.
posted by maxsparber at 10:12 AM on May 14, 2015 [36 favorites]


If folks could actually read the article, I think that a lot of the comments here could be elided.
posted by klangklangston at 10:13 AM on May 14, 2015 [9 favorites]


But in the last couple of years it's started to feel less like a Vacation Rental By Owner, and more like a shambolic version of the long-term hotel suite industry.

I used airbnb for the first time recently, and while I eventually found a wonderful place let out by a very nice person for a great price, it took a loooonng time to wade through all the wannabe slumlords who had very obviously rented a shitty apartment a couple of months ago, put a few knickknacks in, and were trying to rent it for crazy amounts.
posted by junco at 10:15 AM on May 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


(And I'll admit to being a little bit cranky and protectionist right now, since the new owners of the house next door have set up an RV at the very edge of their property — right below my apartment window — and started listing it on AirBnB, leading to music blaring at 3am on a Wednesday a couple weeks ago right under my window.)
posted by klangklangston at 10:19 AM on May 14, 2015 [10 favorites]


Now that I think about it, private individuals who rent out their couch or spare room might be happy for this ordinance as well. I'm not a lawyer, but my understanding is that there is no clear provision in state law that says that AirB&B guests are not tenants, and thus if they decide they don't want to leave after their term, it may be difficult to get rid of them. By treating these residences as subject to the occupancy tax, their guests would no longer be considered to have the same rights as tenants.

(I found California's definition of a tenant here).
posted by muddgirl at 10:36 AM on May 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yeah, who cares about the neighbors who are actually trying to live there...

Fuck the neighbors! Giving people power over what their neighbors can and cannot do is the worst sort of petty tyranny. Just look at the nightmare form of shadow government that is a subdivision HOA!
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:50 AM on May 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


(And I'll admit to being a little bit cranky and protectionist right now, since the new owners of the house next door have set up an RV at the very edge of their property — right below my apartment window — and started listing it on AirBnB, leading to music blaring at 3am on a Wednesday a couple weeks ago right under my window.)

I have felt like one of the big pitfalls of the AirBnB secret location model is that people other than the owner cannot comment on how respectful a buyer is - and thus, fucknuts are able to repeatedly rent using it. An owner who doesn't live there is only concerned about getting paid and damage, and the fall-out of a party guest is generally going to take a committed neighbor to be felt at all (pursuing ordinances, alerting building officials, etc.)

It's incredibly anti-community in this part of its design, which is painful because people like me are desperate to stay in communities where we go rather than downtown business districts or airports.
posted by buoys in the hood at 11:06 AM on May 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Santa Monica says "Later, dude!" to AirBnB

Santa Monica leverages its core competencies via a disruptive, transgressive, and impactful business civic model.
 
posted by Herodios at 11:08 AM on May 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


Santa Monica? Isn't that where Whitey Bulger snagged a rent-controlled apartment near the beach which he lived in for fifteen years while allegedly on the run from the FBI?
posted by grounded at 11:24 AM on May 14, 2015


This is my take, what if, well-heeled, or even medium-heeled criminal interests use air bnb rentals to operate out of for a few days, whether it is robbery, the sex trade, or even major drug deals? That is one consideration. There is little surveillance, rentals could be very easily anonymous.
posted by Oyéah at 11:25 AM on May 14, 2015


"It's incredibly anti-community in this part of its design, which is painful because people like me are desperate to stay in communities where we go rather than downtown business districts or airports."

Yeah, I complained to my city council member but haven't heard back. Since then, while there have been people who stay there, they haven't been playing music past 11pm, which while I'm not a huge fan of, is more like having regular neighbors who we share a wall with. But my next move will be to ensure the next obnoxious renters get enough of an earful that they leave a bad review for the landlord.
posted by klangklangston at 11:26 AM on May 14, 2015


I think this sounds like sensible legislation and brings AirBNB back to what I feel the original intent was, to put a little used spare bedroom to work for you. And, yes, you should pay tax on that income like any other business. That guy complaining about the taxes for his spare bedroom can go the traditional route and get a long-term roommate. Our neighbors were going to AirBNB their entire property next door, meaning two nice houses for rent would be dropping out of the very tight housing market in a neighborhood known for high rents and few available places. They decided against it and, instead of bros partying at 2am, we have families with kids. I think this is good.
posted by Foam Pants at 11:26 AM on May 14, 2015 [13 favorites]


bros partying at 2am, we have families with kids

Serious question: Is this perceived as the typical AirBnB consumer? I love AirBnB specifically because my family--with kids--loves to travel and it's more affordable and comfortable to be able to rent someone's vacation home during the off season, say, than to get two hotel rooms that are unaffordable and separate us. AirBnB isn't perfect, and some of its problems have been mentioned here, but honestly, it's a godsend for less affluent families who travel. This legislation puts Santa Monica out of our vacation reach (had it been there in the first place, which it hasn't) and I'd be bummed to see legislation like this that lacks some nuance take hold everywhere.
posted by weeyin at 11:41 AM on May 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


It may not be everywhere but, unfortunately, it does seem to be the typical vacationer where I am living. It's a little spring-breaky in my neighborhood.
posted by Foam Pants at 11:49 AM on May 14, 2015


maxsparber: "disruptive"

A word that is viewed as positive or negative depending on who you ask.
posted by wcfields at 11:49 AM on May 14, 2015


The second-to-last time I went to LA, I stayed in a studio apartment on AirBNB in Venice Beach. There just wasn't enough stuff in the apartment to indicate a person lived there, unless they were the most travelingest single male salesman ever.

I finally realized: this unit in this building, it's designed solely for AirBNB rentals, and so it's actually off the market for normal renters. At let's say $200/night, minimum 2 day stay, renting it out 3 out of 4 weekends a month, that's $1200/mo with no tenants rights hassles, no having to delead the place when a tenant gets pregnant, no rent control, raise it to $350/night if there's an event ...
posted by zippy at 11:51 AM on May 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


We use VBRO, AirBnB, FlipKey etc almost exclusively when travelling. As a family it's less (or the same amount) as a hotel but a far better experience. Some of the homes (and hosts) we've stayed in we still talk about years later. I can't even remember that name of the last hotel I stayed in.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:53 AM on May 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


(not genderist about salespeople, it's just the few furnishings in the place were fraternity-ish)
posted by zippy at 11:54 AM on May 14, 2015


This legislation puts Santa Monica out of our vacation reach (had it been there in the first place, which it hasn't) and I'd be bummed to see legislation like this that lacks some nuance take hold everywhere.

This legislation has been on the books for a long time. They are increasing enforcement, not restricting something that wasn't previously restricted. Most districts that have restricted short-term vacation rentals still allow home-swapping, including, as far as I can tell, Santa Monica.
posted by muddgirl at 11:54 AM on May 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Serious question: Is this perceived as the typical AirBnB consumer?

It doesn't really matter if it's typical - they're out there. In Calgary, two weeks ago a group via AirBnB did over $50,000 worth of damage by hosting a 100+ person party.

It's an affordable way to travel, which also appeals to young and not-affluent partiers. The company says damage is rare, but they're the only ones with any stats on that.
posted by buoys in the hood at 12:04 PM on May 14, 2015



Yeah, who cares about the neighbors who are actually trying to live there

As someone who lives in Santa Monica, yeah. Fuck 'em. This town has more than its fair share of NIMBY s more than willing to get up in your shit, just because they can. Witness the asshole's comment about just getting a smaller apartmen .

Actual disruptive behavior is easily dealt with by the local PD. Airbnb didn't need to even be regulated for that part.

The actual regulation doesn't seem all that bad for renting out a couch. But why bother if that's all your doing? I suspect most doing this never saw much harm, and with the prospect of more stringent policing of the practice, will suffer the mos . Simultaneously, it seems a pity it could ban full house/condo/apartment rentals. They clearly serve a useful purpose most of the time, and throwing the baby out with the bath water doesn't really help anyone other than monied interests with a dog in the figh .
posted by 2N2222 at 12:06 PM on May 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


The benefits for travelers vastly outweigh the slight annoyance of a few neighbors.

Says you!

Fortunately we have venues, such as city council meetings, in which to decide where to draw the line on how much annoyance the neighbors must tolerate.
posted by notyou at 12:14 PM on May 14, 2015 [8 favorites]


Travelers looking to stay in the area can still do short term vacation rentals in Hermosa Beach, Long Beach, or Manhattan Beach. Farther south there's Newport beach, Laguna beach, San Clemente, and Seal beach. I've only scratched the surface of the myriad of vacation locales that allow short-term vacation rentals in California (Lake Tahoe is rather nice). I really don't understand how the desires of vacationers to stay in this particular community should be any factor.
posted by muddgirl at 12:23 PM on May 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


(I found California's definition of a tenant here).

That is very, very, very interesting and just begging to be taken advantage of. It seems as if it would be quite easy to find a place where you aren't a lodger in a hotel etc. (because no tax, and no room service) and you aren't a lodger in a private residence because the owner doesn't live there but rather maintains it as an airbnb rental property, and just ... wreak havoc.
posted by kenko at 12:38 PM on May 14, 2015


"Says you!

Fortunately we have venues, such as city council meetings, in which to decide where to draw the line on how much annoyance the neighbors must tolerate.
"

Well, yeah, and more to the point, the resident's concerns should trump the traveler's because the resident lives there.
posted by klangklangston at 12:41 PM on May 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


This is a trickier situation than can be addressed with "no short-term stays without a resident on premise." I used to work in a coastal California county, where a few of the communities had really restrictive vacation rental ordinances (no less than 200 ft between rental properties, where lots are as narrow as 25 feet wide), and some people registered their home as a vacation rental to keep their neighbors from legally operating a vacation rental. Then there's the issue of enforcement of legal or illegal rentals. In dense cities, there's enough police force to respond in a timely fashion to noise violations, but in smaller communities where vacation rentals fill in the gaps left by lack or shortages of hotels, police are spread pretty thin, so enforcement falls back on county code enforcement, who don't work on evenings or weekends. More restrictive situations meant more illegal rentals, and still no way to actively enforce if you can't get proof that a property is currently being rented for less than 30 days.

In short: bold move, Santa Monica, let's see how it works in a year.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:47 PM on May 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


as always, City Councillors will side with the business that can buy them off. In this case hotels.

Yes, the hotels backed this, but without Santa Monicans for Renters Rights (SMRR) on board too this wouldn't have happened. (And if you're a property owner, I guess which side you're on depends on whether you're the one placing the AirBnB listings or your tenants are.)

It's worth noting that Santa Monica has very aggressive affordable housing policies so their interest in the housing stock goes beyond the highest bidding interest. And in other news: New Santa Monica Law to Prohibit Discrimination Against Section 8 Tenants.

Isn't that where Whitey Bulger snagged a rent-controlled apartment near the beach which he lived in for fifteen years while allegedly on the run from the FBI?

Well, he didn't "snag" anything, he moved into a rent-controlled apartment like every other person who moves into a pre-1979 building in Santa Monica. It's not really relevant to being one of America's Most Wanted or being able to evade law enforcement. (Unless you're just name-checking Whitey Bulger in which case, wow that was a weird couple of weeks!)

From the article, what they actually did was budget for enforcement of a law they already had, and to liberalize home share rentals (where the owner or lease-holder stays on site throughout the visit).

See also, the second sentence of this post.
posted by Room 641-A at 2:08 PM on May 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


I personally like staying at hotels, because I like the idea that at least some of my money goes to sustain working class jobs in the community; I like the idea that workers at hotels have some ability to unionize and I choose union hotels when I can; I like the idea that workers at hotels have some legal protection in terms of work standards, and I think those standards should be more aggressively enforced rather than junked entirely by privatizing lodging; and I like the idea that I have a manager and hotel security on call if I have a problem rather than needing to make a random call to the cops to try to hash things out between me and random strangers.

AirBnB, etc, are just ways to try to offload the decline of the middle class. Axe working class jobs that you might find at actual hotels and provide middle class people (who have nicer apartments and houses) with a way to make enough money to stay in those apartments and houses - all without any kind of social reform! Why deal with stagnating wages and precarity when you can just find another aspect of private life for the middle class to commercialize?

I'd get rid of AirBnB and Uber and all the "disruptive" services like them if I could, frankly. While they have their convenience advantage, they're all just symptoms of economic stagnation and inequality - taking in each other's washing.
posted by Frowner at 2:22 PM on May 14, 2015 [30 favorites]


"AirBnB, etc, are just ways to try to offload the decline of the middle class. Axe working class jobs that you might find at actual hotels and provide middle class people (who have nicer apartments and houses) with a way to make enough money to stay in those apartments and houses - all without any kind of social reform! Why deal with stagnating wages and precarity when you can just find another aspect of private life for the middle class to commercialize?"

I worry sometimes that I'm becoming That Guy because when stuff like this comes up I start being all, "Let me tell you about Georgism and the problems of rentiers!" and then my friends are like, "But I don't actually care about your 19th Century economic hobbyhorses."

Ultimately, I'd have much less a problem with AirBnB/VRBO if it had an exponentially steep progressive tax rate and those revenues were put into affordable housing subsidies for people who couldn't afford the rents. (I also tend to think that while rent control is popular, it actually ends up making the problem worse — in my dream restructuring, we'd be reforming rent control at the same time we finally get rid of the cancer that is Prop. 13.)
posted by klangklangston at 3:05 PM on May 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Metafilter: If folks could actually read the article, I think that a lot of the comments here could be elided.
posted by etherist at 3:24 PM on May 14, 2015


AirBnB is used in a really hideous way by a lot of people in NYC, who essentially run unregulated multi-apartment hotels as their full-time job.

This actually reminds me of one of my favorite pieces of internet writing ever, which i swear was part of an FPP i'll never find again, this writeup on toshi hotel.

I honestly have no idea how we'll ever be completely rid of this kind of thing. There's just too much money in it.
posted by emptythought at 4:06 PM on May 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


Now that I think about it, private individuals who rent out their couch or spare room might be happy for this ordinance as well. I'm not a lawyer, but my understanding is that there is no clear provision in state law that says that AirB&B guests are not tenants, and thus if they decide they don't want to leave after their term, it may be difficult to get rid of them. By treating these residences as subject to the occupancy tax, their guests would no longer be considered to have the same rights as tenants.


Generally the way this works is NOT a money changing hands thing, it's a time thing. The 30 days is an interesting choice because in my area, that's when you become a Real Tennant and you need to be evicted.

I was always surprised that people were willing to do VRBO type stuff for over a month because of that, but i guess they're just utterly blinded by money.
posted by emptythought at 4:15 PM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Ultimately, I'd have much less a problem with AirBnB/VRBO if it had an exponentially steep progressive tax rate and those revenues were put into affordable housing subsidies for people who couldn't afford the rents. (I also tend to think that while rent control is popular, it actually ends up making the problem worse — in my dream restructuring, we'd be reforming rent control at the same time we finally get rid of the cancer that is Prop. 13.)

you really can't get around the fact that the entire real estate "market" is driven by rentier created artificial scarcity. the hotel is, on the one hand, a luxury service for people who want servants when they travel, but mainly the ultimate sort of bet on rental housing for people who are artificially homeless because they are travelling... and thus their demand is inelastic. but it's really just an extreme case of the rental market in general: people are artificially frozen out of the market for real capital i.e. homes and are thus forced to pay rents to people who do have access to capital.

under full communism some ideal system everyone would have a home with some buffer for fluctuations in population and paying a nominal rate to cover the real cost of financing, and then you could use some "airbnb" like system to efficiently allocate excess rooms in the system to travellers.
posted by ennui.bz at 7:01 PM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


But fucking Hell, do I ever love using it.

Getting cheap clothes and shoes and electronics is also really great when you don't think about the sweatshops which produce them!

You can't separate the good parts of AirBnB or Uber from the terrible parts any more than you can separate the cheapness of many items of clothing from the poor labor conditions which allow them to be produced at that price.
posted by Justinian at 7:03 PM on May 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


Fuck the neighbors! Giving people power over what their neighbors can and cannot do is the worst sort of petty tyranny. Just look at the nightmare form of shadow government that is a subdivision HOA!

Yeah, fucking busy-bodies complaining about my open-air manure pit....
posted by MikeKD at 7:33 PM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Fuck the neighbors! Giving people power over what their neighbors can and cannot do is the worst sort of petty tyranny. Just look at the nightmare form of shadow government that is a subdivision HOA!


Yes, I've heard of this kind of thing. I'm not supposed to complain about the meth dealer who lives on the corner. Or the brothel down the road, whose girls work on my street and do their business between my house and my neighbors. Or the motel on the neighboring freeway that the city uses as an SRO to house recently paroled inmates together with single moms with kids, and which is a thriving hub of the local drug trade and a gang recruitment center. Or the murders (3 this year) or the stabbings (20 this year) or the daylight abductions (2 this year), all in a 5 block radius, or the break ins or the parties that go on until 5 and bring dozens of people to pass out on the lawns. Or the guy who assaulted me one morning, because I was wearing a black coat and a red scarf, foolish in gangland.

Yes, I'm not supposed to complain about this shit or ameliorate this shit or do anything except move. Yeah. And what the fuck am I bitching about, bitch?
posted by jrochest at 8:14 PM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Just some data:
New York Housing Units - 3,084,861
Source: http://www.baruch.cuny.edu/nycdata/housing/room_numbers.htm
Number of listings on AirBnB - 27,392
Source: http://insideairbnb.com/new-york-city/

% of housing stock going to AiRBnB: 0.89%

Whatever issues people have with housing and pricing, I think they maybe ought to look elsewhere for the causes of the problem. People are more mobile these days, and AirBnB adds flexibility and freedom for a lot of people. Listening to https://toe.prx.org/ makes me feel like this is just fear of change and new stuff.
posted by yoz420 at 11:38 PM on May 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Cities should legalize, regulate, and tax AirBNBs (even those where the homeowner isn't present). The benefits for travelers vastly outweigh the slight annoyance of a few neighbors.

Sorry if others have pointed this out already and if I'm just repeating stuff that's been said all over the place (and written about in many articles too), but I'm kind of shocked to still read this kind of comment as it shows there is still a very misinformed picture on the issue here.

The problem of things like AirbnB is by far not just about "slight annoyance of a few neighbours", it's about its effects on the property market, mainly (and secondarily on the hospitality market). It's happening in Europe too, I see it especially in Berlin, where it's not the only factor destroying the original character of the city but it is a big one (of course it's a global trend, gentrification blah blah, and in Berlin local politicians have their own major faults, selling off a lot of council property for nothing to developers and generally making it easier for speculators, and this in a city that has a very unique history and lots of social issues and inequality and had very low rents and laws limiting those rent increases only until a few years ago so it's even sadder and more enraging than in other major European cities).

There are people with money who buy several flats specifically and only to rent it out as a holiday flat (Ferienwohnung), obviously making a LOT more money than if they were to rent those on a long-term basis and having to respect all laws about rents. With AirBnB they have zero responsiblities (and zero taxes!) as landlords because they're not even legally recognised as landlords.

Before AirBnB came along, there were already B&B's and holiday rentals (and there still are, with their own websites, though now a lot of them tend to be advertised on AirBnB too), many of them in non-urban holiday resorts, more often as parts of a private house.

For example, when I went on a holiday in Northern Germany by the sea, I rented a lovely bungalow in the garden of a private home of a couple. They also rented out part of the first floor. It was their own family house. The husband had had a stroke and was severely disabled, the wife took care of him, their only income was payments from the state for disability and for caregivers, and the rentals in summer of the flat and bungalow. That's perfectly fair to the couple, to their guests - the hosts are right there, next door literally, they assist you with everything like in a hotel. It's also fair to the local hospitality industry. There were a couple of small hotels there and B&B's, but it's a small village and it's a protected natural area all around so it's mostly private homes, not big commercial complexes for tourists - so they're not even damaging the competition really. And they are definitely not damaging the local property market, people who don't already live there only go there on holiday, there's no "gentrification" effect there.

It's so much different in a major city! Everyone is moving to the cities already, in Berlin the population has been exploding in a few years, it's more and more difficult to find a place especially for families, rents already going up of their own and recently lots of residential properties are being sold off instead of rented. This has been a very disruptive change for a city (and a nation) where – unlike in many other European countries (and in the US) – most people rent, rather than get a mortgage for the same amount of money and buy their own flat or house. Even if they have good jobs and make decent money. It's always been more convenient and practical to rent, you were practically guaranteed to keep renting that flat for life, and most buildings have been managed that way, as rental property. They weren't that many flats for sale in the city until a few years ago. So with this opening up of the market to buyers rather than renters, lots of well-off investors, from small to medium to bigger, from individual to companies, have rushed in to buy off these flats, fill them with your standard modern-monotonous style of furniture, put them on AirBnB and make lots of Euros.

I understand that there can be more legitimate uses of this system by people actually renting out a room or their own small place just to make a bit of money on the side. I once used AirBnB myself to find a place for a couple of friends visiting, and put them up in a nice small cheap studio flat which was being rented out by a young guy who did actually live there, and just went and stayed with his girlfriend when paying guests were in. He was very nice and was available and nearby for anything guests needed, and it clearly wasn't an example of some major speculation here. It was practical for all parties involved.

Still, even an example like this is already on dodgier territory from a legal (and fiscal!) point of view - obviously no taxes involved, clearly the property was not registered as for commercial use, it was his own private home, but it was put to commercial uses and there are laws regulating that and this guy, thanks to AirBnB, was completely bypassing them. How is that fair on everyone else who has to respect those laws and has no way to dodge them?

And that kind of "just renting out my own small place when I'm not there" is a rarer and rarer example on AIrBnB in Berlin. It's mostly larger apartments, and the user profiles show that their owners have multiple properties, all furnished in similar manner, and they obviously live elsewhere. They are well-off and bought those flats only to rent them out.

There are maps on the internet of the density of AirBnB apartments in the "hip" areas like Kreuzberg (a fancy example here ) and it's like they're dotting every street, every corner of every street, every five buildings there must be at least one AirBnB flat. Dozens of them on offer and by contrast very few actual flats for rent for residents available on a weekly basis. It's ridiculous, it's both removing much-needed housing from people who actually need to live and work in the city and send their kids to school in the city, and at the same time it's contributing massively to driving up prices, attracting wealthy buyers and reducing the number of flats available for rent for ordinary people.

Major cities attract more people and become more expensive. Everyone has their own ideas on how governments should or should not interfere with "the market" or how they should deal with growing social and economic inequalities, but even without getting into political discussions on the pros and cons of a laissez-fair attitude, there is going to be a very practical problem with this: even the most gentrified wealthy city will always still need all kinds of people doing all kinds of jobs for all kinds of pay. What's going to happen when people working in retail, in supermarkets, for public transport, for waste collection etc. get priced out of urban areas? When everyone except the rich has to move outside the city? and then those areas just outside the city get more appealing and pricey too? And local governments wash their hands of it all?

Then there's the effect on the local tourist hospitality industry - hotels and b&b's and all the forms of previously existing and heavily regulated commercial accomodation services for tourists. There is a reason those are heavily regulated, they have responsibilities to the guests, from stuff like security to fire safety (if those regulations were applied to all those flats rented out in old buildings on AirBnB, they'd have to close immediately or renovate the entire building from scratch). And they're taxed. They contribute to the local economy. And they create jobs. They employ people. All things that AirBnB does not. It actually does the opposite.

Sorry again for rehashing stuff that's been said over and over but in Berlin this problem is maybe even more dramatic than elsewhere because unlike in other cities in Europe and the US, it coincided with the general tendency of property speculation that had been before practically inexistent, and is contributing to a housing crisis.

So much that recently the local government did indeed pass a law against this sneaky use of private residential property for commercial purposes. The holiday flats will require permits and be taxed, it's unclear yet how this will affect the trend and limit the damage done so far, maybe too little too late, but at least the principle of introducing some regulation is something that's being understood as necessary for safeguarding the interests of local residents, of people actually living and working and paying taxes in the city, far beyond issues of "slight annoyance of a few neighbours".
posted by bitteschoen at 1:36 AM on May 15, 2015 [12 favorites]


Getting cheap clothes and shoes and electronics is also really great when you don't think about the sweatshops which produce them! You can't separate the good parts of AirBnB or Uber from the terrible parts any more than you can separate the cheapness of many items of clothing from the poor labor conditions which allow them to be produced at that price.

Please explain to me the terrible parts of AirBnB that equate with the exploitative nature of sweatshops.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:05 AM on May 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think I've figured out what bothers me about the "AirBnB is taking housing units off the market" line of thinking: the people claiming this is a Big Deal often ignore policies that prevent significantly more housing units from ever being built.

I don't know anyone who is A) halfway familiar with their local zoning regulations and B) really concerned by the number of housing units being taken off the long-term rental market by short-term rental services.

That LAANE study mentions about 5,000 AirBnB units in LA. I'm a hell of a lot more concerned by LA being zoned for 6 million fewer housing units than in 1960 (source).
posted by ripley_ at 9:09 AM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it's like all the people complaining about luxury apartments here in Seattle. You know why builders are building so many luxury apartments and so few normal ones? Because the demand for apartments is so much greater than the available opportunities to build that they can afford to skim the top! It's not like these luxury apartments are going un-rented - there's demand for all of them. The solution is not to pass laws forcing developers to make cheaper apartments, the solution is to remove the restrictive zoning which prevents them from satisfying the massive demand for in-city housing. Same here: if a bunch of short-term rentals are causing a serious distortion in your rental market, you don't have enough housing and you solve that by building more.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:39 AM on May 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


"It's not like these luxury apartments are going un-rented - there's demand for all of them. "

Really? In LA and NY, a lot of investment apartments are empty the vast majority of the time, being there purely so some billionaire can bounce in for a weekend every year, while also holding on to an appreciating asset. So demand, yes. Actual tenancy? Not so much. But maybe Seattle's different; I don't know enough about real estate markets to generalize.
posted by klangklangston at 11:39 AM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


a lot of investment apartments are empty the vast majority of the time

Do you have any numbers on pieds-a-terre in NYC?

The best data (which isn't saying much) on this that I've seen is "Twenty-four percent of co-op and condo apartments citywide are not the primary residence of their owners", but that doesn't distinguish between people with vacation homes and small-scale landlords.

As far as I know, the most we can say definitively about pieds-a-terre in NYC is that they are <= 24% of co-ops and condos. Could be 1%, could be 24%. I really wish we had better data on this.
posted by ripley_ at 12:03 PM on May 15, 2015


Here's another article with some info.

In a three-block stretch of Midtown, from East 56th Street to East 59th Street, between Fifth Avenue and Park Avenue, 57 percent, or 285 of 496 apartments, including co-ops and condos, are vacant at least 10 months a year. From East 59th Street to East 63rd Street, 628 of 1,261 homes, or almost 50 percent, are vacant the majority of the time, according to data from the Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey.

and

George Sweeting, the deputy director of the Independent Budget Office, said the agency plans to look further into how tracking the tax abatement for primary residents could shed light on the number of pieds-à-terre across the city.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:15 PM on May 15, 2015


^Correct me if I'm missing something, but I don't think we can infer much about a city of millions from a few thousand apartments right next to Central Park. Not exactly representative of the wider real estate market.
posted by ripley_ at 12:21 PM on May 15, 2015


Well sure, but this particular issue (of almost totally unoccupied-by-anyone apartments) is primarily a problem in areas like those.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:23 PM on May 15, 2015


Areas which don't make up much of NYC's residentially zoned land (and are hugely wealthy already so gentrification is less of a concern)?

I'd love to see some data that indicates otherwise, but pieds-a-terre seem to get so much more attention than they deserve as a major driver of housing costs/supply.

Anecdotally, the number of people I know who are very concerned about vacant units is way higher than the number of people I know with a rough understanding of A) the numbers we have on vacant units and B) local land use regulation.
posted by ripley_ at 12:56 PM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Please explain to me the terrible parts of AirBnB that equate with the exploitative nature of sweatshops.

They don't equate, that's not how an analogy works. I'm saying that just as what can be seen as one type of positive (cheap clothing) is inextricably tied to the downside which makes it possible (cheap labor) so the positives of AirBnB are inextricably tied to its downsides (market disruption, regulation flouting, tax evasion).

Basically people tend to only look at the positives without considering the negatives.
posted by Justinian at 1:52 PM on May 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


They don't equate, that's not how an analogy works. I'm saying that just as what can be seen as one type of positive (cheap clothing) is inextricably tied to the downside which makes it possible (cheap labor) so the positives of AirBnB are inextricably tied to its downsides (market disruption, regulation flouting, tax evasion).

And I'm saying that by reaching for the most emotionally-arresting comparison possible, you made an analogy that was manipulatively shitty and skewed. The only way you could have pandered to emotion any harder was if you'd gotten Sarah McClachlan to recite your words for you while holding a kitten or something.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:06 PM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm thrilled with AirBnB, etc. because they're "disrupting" exploitive businesses like hotels. Ain't all perfect if another set of investors captures the new cheeper class of hotels though.

I'm okay with an ordinance that benefits AirBnB "home sharing" like this one because that helps keep investors out of the loop.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:11 PM on May 15, 2015


AirBnB: Not as bad as sweatshops
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 2:12 PM on May 15, 2015


LA being zoned for 6 million fewer housing units than in 1960

Correction: I meant 6 million fewer people, not housing units. My bad.
posted by ripley_ at 2:26 PM on May 15, 2015


How exactly are hotels exploitative? I'm not being confrontational; I don't understand.
posted by winna at 3:02 PM on May 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


AirBnB: Not as bad as sweatshops

Heh. Noice.

I referenced sweatshops because it is probably the most common and easily understood example. I'm perfectly fine if someone can think of a better example of the same dynamic with people commonly ignoring negatives of their purchases/actions because the positives are more apparent and immediate.
posted by Justinian at 3:21 PM on May 15, 2015


" The only way you could have pandered to emotion any harder was if you'd gotten Sarah McClachlan to recite your words for you while holding a kitten or something."

Sidenote: I went to a non-profit conference and started talking to a handful of people from animal welfare orgs and found out that they all HATE HATE HATE that ad. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) promotes itself as a national organization but only really supports NYC shelters, with occasional forays into other hot spots (e.g. post-Katrina). So that ad gets tons of funding, and people think it helps support their local shelters, but it really ends up hurting them.
posted by klangklangston at 11:14 PM on May 15, 2015


I think I've figured out what bothers me about the "AirBnB is taking housing units off the market" line of thinking: the people claiming this is a Big Deal often ignore policies that prevent significantly more housing units from ever being built.

I don't know anyone who is A) halfway familiar with their local zoning regulations and B) really concerned by the number of housing units being taken off the long-term rental market by short-term rental services.



Really? That sounds like an odd thing to say, there are definitely many people who are both A) very familiar with local regulations and B) really concerned: the press, the local government, politicians, local residents etc. in several major cities where the whole issue of the impact of AirBnB on the local housing market has been debated, also in legal and political terms, it's very much a common debate in several countries where AirBnB operates, especially in Europe (and apparently Europe is the largest market for AirBnB, with more than half of its listings) - and that impact is in densely populated inner urban areas, where you literally cannot "build any new housing units", there is no space left between buildings. It's not even a matter of regulations but physical space. That's the problem.
posted by bitteschoen at 2:37 AM on May 16, 2015


Same here: if a bunch of short-term rentals are causing a serious distortion in your rental market, you don't have enough housing and you solve that by building more.

Oh ok I get it - this is probably a difference between US cities and European cities I hadn't considered. You guys may have more space, but in Europe, in cities like London and Paris and Berlin ad in those central areas and streets where AirBnB has taken over, we're talking about rows of old buildings with not a square inch left between them. The only available physical space left around there that's not occupied by buildings is the street itself, playgrounds and city parks.

Any general debate about building more housing involves other areas where that is actually feasible, mainly outside the inner city centre.

Which, again, in any case goes back to the main issue at stake here: we're talking about pricing people out of inner urban areas.
posted by bitteschoen at 2:46 AM on May 16, 2015


Bitteschoen - there are also US cities with that same problem of "no physical space left to build housing" in certain neighborhoods. However, the city frequently "solves" that problem by tearing down the existing buildings and putting bigger ones in their place.

Mind you, the people who were in the old buildings often can't afford spots in the new ones, but.....
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:41 AM on May 16, 2015


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