San Francisco to vote on limiting short-term rentals

Byby Sergio Quintana via KGO logo
Tuesday, November 3, 2015
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There is a low voter turnout expected despite some very controversial ballot measures in San Francisco.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Tuesday is Election Day, but voters don't seem that excited about it. San Francisco expects a voter turnout of only 40 percent, despite some controversial ballot measures. One of those is Proposition F, so ABC7 News takes a look at short-term rentals and why they were so controversial.

Prop F is by far the most high-profile issue on the ballot. San Francisco residents can see that by the number of political fliers they've been inundated with. There are supporters of Prop F who say companies like Airbnb are actually contributing to San Francisco's housing shortage.

Demonstrators took their support of Prop F, to the lobby of Airbnb headquarters in the South of Market District.

Teresa Flandrich has been battling an Ellis Act eviction in her North Beach home for months. Come February, she says she may have to leave.

"The horrible thing is within three quarters of a block there are 22 units. These aren't sofa's, these aren't extra bedrooms, but units that are on VRBO, Airbnb, Roomorama, etcetera," Flandrich said.

Opponents of Prop F have spent a lot of money to defeat the issue. Gigantic billboards have been posted and they've blanketed the airwaves with several hard hitting TV ads. According to campaign contribution filings, more than $8 million has been spent by the "No On Prop F" campaign and Airbnb has picked up the tab for that spending.

San Francisco homeowners who host Airbnb guests, like Bruce Bennett, say they already have to register with the city under a recently passed ordinance.

"We are a hosted situation where we rent out a spare bedroom in our house. We've been doing that since February of 2014. We have had zero complaints from our neighbors," Bennett said.

Bennett and other opponents of Prop F say it goes too far. One big storyline in the "No On Prop F" campaign is that this law would pit neighbor against neighbor and prompt people to spy on each other and file lawsuits.

"Airbnb doesn't care about neighbors suing neighbors. Proposition F allows neighbors to sue Airbnb. And more importantly, it allows the city to go after Airbnb when it lists illegal and unregistered units," Dale Carlson, a Prop F supporter, said.

He says it's needed because even a recently passed ordinance isn't helping. Only a few hundred hosts have legally registered with the city, but there are still thousands of daily rentals available on Airbnb and other platforms.

Carlson is one of the architects of Prop F. His group has raised just $300,000. He knows the campaign is being outspent and the opposition has lots of local endorsements, including Mayor Ed Lee, who says Prop F goes too far. He prefers to let a recently passed law take its course.

"You know what I believe in is we have an ordinance that I worked very closely with former Supervisor David Chiu, who's now in the Assembly, but we worked hard to make sure that that was the right balance," Lee said.

Win or lose, Carlson plans on taking this effort beyond San Francisco. He said, "We've had conversations with people in Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Portland, Austin, Chicago, New York, Washington D.C., there's a lot of interest in this, because it's causing so many problems."

If Prop F fails at the ballot this time around, supporters say they may try again next election cycle.

And if it passes, Prop F may not hit Airbnb too hard because San Francisco is just a fraction of the short-term rentals it lists around the world. But it would be a symbolic loss for a company that was born here.

READ MORE: Click here for other stories on Airbnb