Forget about the sharing economy. Soon we may have the snitch economy.
As city and state governments around the country try to figure out ways to regulate “sharing” sites like Airbnb, a small coalition in San Francisco is taking a somewhat radical approach with a new initiative that would “reward tipsters” who tattle on hosts breaking the rules.
In San Francisco, current law forbids renting residential apartments for less than 30 days—Airbnb’s bread and butter.
The measure is backed by three men: Calvin Welch, a housing activist, Doug Engmann, a former San Francisco planning commissioner, and Dale Carlson, the owner of Carlson Advisors, a public relations firm. The trio has not yet announced how much, exactly, snitches would be rewarded. But they believe that the San Francisco real estate market has reached a critical breaking point, and rules alone won’t do enough to enforce illegal renters. In other words, they want to tap the “crowd” to be their eyes and ears.
“The short-term rental market is exploding and cries out for some sort of regulation,” Welch told The San Francisco Chronicle. “People are stunned to find out that a house on their block is now a hotel.”
In addition to paying snitches, their initiative—which would be up for a vote in November if it gathers 9,700 signatures by July 7—would also increase the number of rules for Airbnb hosts. The measure would limit short-term rentals to neighborhoods that are zoned for commercial purposes. It would also require permission from home owners to list the properties online.
According to The Chronicle, the group has commitments for about $20,000 but needs an additional $150,000 to $200,000 to get some momentum behind the ballot.
The bill comes at a time when city and state governments around the country are wrestling with how to regulate “sharing” sites like Airbnb. It’s become a national issue, but has played out most prominently in New York, where Attorney General Eric Schneiderman subpoenaed Airbnb for information on hosts.
“The most straightforward solution would be for Airbnb to simply prevent illegal transactions,” Schneiderman wrote in an op-ed in The New York Times last week. “But when my office reached out to Airbnb, the company rejected the idea of self-policing out of hand and refused to provide data that would give us a handle on the scope of the problem.”
Attempts at regulation have often sparked heated debates. On one side, housing activists say short-term rentals welcome transients (or sex partiers) to the neighborhood, which is potentially dangerous for residents. They also claim short-term renters ultimately drive up rents in the neighborhood.
Those who support using sites like Airbnb argue that apartment dwellers should have the right to rent out their apartments as they please, and that the sharing economy actually provides a wealth of economic stimulus to the area.
Airbnb supporters gathered with signs outside San Francisco City Hall Tuesday to protest the proposal.
“We want to work with everyone in San Francisco who cares about home-sharing, but this proposal would make it even harder for San Franciscans to make ends meet,” Airbnb spokesman Nick Papas said in a statement to The Chronicle.