San Francisco

San Francisco May Wind Up Paying Residents to Snitch on Neighbors Who Use Airbnb



Here's an annoying new twist on "if you see something, say something": Some influential San Franciscans are proposing that the city start paying snitches to report neighbors who may be renting out spaces via Airbnb.

Airbnb, which launched in San Francisco, matches up travelers with local residents who have space—be it a couch, a spare bedroom, or a whole place—to rent out for a few nights or a few weeks. 

A ballot measure backed by former city Planning Commissioner Doug Engmann would ban these temporary rentals in any San Francisco neighborhood not marked for commercial zoning. It would also require hosts to get permission from landlords or homeowners associations, enact insurance requirements for hosts, and—most controversially—set up a financial reward system for residents who rat out neighbors violating the law.

The language of the proposal isn't available yet, but Engmann said  it will likely match existing city laws that financially reward citizens for reporting various crimes. "Right now, it's totally unregulated, and the law is being violated," Engmann told Venture Beat. "I have a real problem with businesses that basically build a revenue model on encouraging their hosts to do illegal activities—that's basically what Airbnb's business model is."

You could put it like that. Or you could say Airbnb built a revenue model on encouraging their hosts to do legal activities that freaked out politicians (and well-connected competitors) enough to ban them.

Airbnb rentals are often much cheaper than hotels and nicer than hostels, which makes it and similar sites (like VRBO) quite attractive to travelers. These sites are also good for homeowners and renters, who can make extra cash off temporarily unused space. But politicians aren't huge fans, because they facilitate transactions between individuals without government regulators getting a say or a cut. For more on New York's Airbnb battle, check out this 2013 video from Reason TV. 

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  1. I love this ReasonTV video.

    1. I like all ReasonTV videos featuring Miss Brockwell.

      1. Why isn’t she hosting The Independents?

        1. Because she’s talented and has a successful career.

        2. Now that I would watch.

      2. Hmm, I never made that connection…

  2. A ballot measure backed by former city Planning Commissioner Doug Engmann

    Hipsters and government regulators are heading towards a violent collision. I eagerly await the victor.

    1. I’m not even being that snarky.

      You’ve got companies like Uber getting hammered in every municipality.

      I read an article about some young, messenger bag-sporting guys who lived in DC starting a micro-housing project which was immediately stopped in its tracks because of zoning and environmental regs. One of the messenger bags actually worked for the EPA (young, white, half-beard resident of DC– where else is he going to work?).

      Even then they couldn’t bring themselves to see a problem with big government per se, only that some regs needed to be tweaked to allow their socially conscious innovations.

      1. I used Uber the other night for the first time. I was with a group of 6 people and we wanted to do about a 15 minute ride. One of the guys called for an SUV on Uber, we got picked up 2 minutes later, and we ended up paying the same price we’d pay for a cab that fit 4 max (assuming the cabbie didn’t tr to take some crappy route to charge us extra).

        It was a pretty awesome service.

      2. Big Taxi and Big Hotel have donation money.

        Uber and AirBNB (and their individual operators) don’t.

        Explains pretty much everything about the pressures in these cases.

        (Personally, I don’t have any desire to stay with a random stranger I’ve never met, but that’s me, and I don’t think my personal preferences should be laws…

        I do think that it’s both libertarian-acceptable and wise to require/get landlord permission if you’re not the property owner and want to use the property you’re renting/leasing in this way.)

        1. Many leases don’t allow sublets. I don’t allow them, without my approval, and I’m a landlord.

    2. There used to be a saying, “A Conservative is a Liberal who was mugged.” I love it when my ultra lefty friends get ‘stated’ by some ridiculous regulation.

      Soon we will say “A Conservative is a Liberal who was mugged by a bureaucrat.”

      My university music professor friend is outraged there are cuts to his department caused by government cut backs on funding. Of course I think, ‘what in the world kind of fool gets a music degree?’. But, he was ranting about right wing governments. I said, ‘the problem is there is too much government. Everybody wants something or is getting something from the government. Eventually the money dries up and everyone gets cuts back. Rather than end the programs that are worthless, they slice back all the programs by 20%, keeping the worthless along with the worthwhile. Only they’re all being strangled. If you like government and big ones, this is the inevitable result. Cut the government way, way back, get it out of most areas of our lives and then fund that which should be funded properly.’

      He thought about it for a minute and said, “nah, it’s those right wingers”.

  3. FSM damn them.

    When I travel, apartment/suite rentals are my preference. Stay a week, have a kitchen & laundry, save a bundle. Take day trips to nearby places. Also, no unpacking every damned night or daily find-a-new-hotel to check into.

    Plus, the landlord knows the good but not overpriced restaurants nearby.

  4. If you glibertardians and teathuglicans knew anything at all about the people of San Francisco, you would understand why they’re opposed to allowing people to spend the night with strangers without the sanction of the state.

  5. I do understand the permission of the landlord bit.

    With San Francisco’s strict rent control laws, it wouldn’t surprise me if tenants could make more money from rent than the landlords are allowed to. If they have to get permission from landlords, it could cause an interesting situation allowing landlords, by sharing in the profits, basically evade rent control. So I’m not surprised that SF is moving against it, since they like their rent control.

    1. Seems like landlords could do this now, sans regulation:

      Landlord: I see you’ve listed your bedroom out on AirBnB…

      Google Employee: Uh, yeah… so… y’you saw that, huh?

      Landlord: Yep. So here’s the thing… I get 15% of the action, or I report you.

      Google Employee: This is an outrage! Will you take 10?


      1. This is already sort of happening. On the radio this morning, they interviewed a person who has permission from her land lord to use AirBnB to make money. Apparently the landlord trusts the tenant and the tenant doesn’t complain because she can afford to live somewhere that is much more expensive. All of this without government intervention to tell us what is fair, so of course it needs to be banned.

      2. Given the market distortion from rent control, the rental market is gamed every way I could think of and more.
        The 3-unit place across the street is pretty much weekly now AFAICT and it seems the aware of it (presumably getting his cut).

    2. Ah, rent control. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

  6. Why not just put telescreens in every home? Think of all the jobs it would create!!

    1. Stimulus!

  7. Here is some info for the next time Shreek claims the FedGov made money on the GM bailout. Because according to FedGov, they lost $11.2 billion on the deal. Shreek is a liar. But of course, we all know that.…..40037.html

    1. So what we’ve learned is that giving tens of billions of dollars to a failing corporation is *not* the way to turn a profit or invest limited human labor and capital efficiently?

      Thank God we have the federal government to conduct these experiments in capital management for us.

      1. I’m sure it’ll work out great the next time.

        1. Bingo – I’m far more worried about the moral hazard and the corruption of bankruptcy law than I am about the US Gov losing $11 billion.

    2. “Shreek is a liar. But of course, we all know that.”

      He’ll claim the TARP ‘made a profit’ but he was excluding *this* portion!

    3. Plus opportunity cost. What was that? 50 bio?

  8. Once again, we see the fucking scumbag government foisting off its law enforcement and regulation enforcement on private entities because it wants so much CONTROL that it can’t handle it all itself. Having trouble micromanaging how people use their own home? Get private people to rat on others, and use other people’s stolen tax money to pay them to do it. Just like forcing banks to police what their customers do.

    Even when the government can’t do everything it wants to do, it often manages to find a way to steal even more from us to try and do those things. It’s fucking appalling.

  9. “Who denounced you?” said Winston.

    “It was my little daughter,” said Parsons with a sort of doleful pride. “She listened at the keyhole. Heard what I was saying, and nipped off to the patrols the very next day. Pretty smart for a nipper of seven, eh? I don’t bear her any grudge for it. In fact I’m proud of her. It shows I brought her up in the right spirit, anyway.”

    1. We don’t want you to surrender to the regulatory state. We want you to embrace it.

  10. What I also find interesting about the state of modern times vis-a-vis the internet, is that once again, it proves that this new technology is a two-way street.

    For people creating innovative ways to communicate services in a decentralized manner, the internet has been a boon.

    For regulators who take a particular glee in sweeping up these new innovations in old-world regulatory frameworks, it’s a great way to keep tabs on who’s doing what and where.

  11. I am totally sure that in no way are existing hotels influencing the politicians behind this push.

    1. Or the local hotel and restaurant workers and door-people’s union…. no power at all in San Francisco.

  12. I don’t know why they need any incentives to get people to turn their neighbors in. I mean, it’s already a crime to know about a crime and not report it, is it not? Well, just start enforcing those laws.

    1. That will work fine once the telescreens and mind reading devices are all set up. But until then you are dealing with unknown unknowns.

      1. You know who else dealt with unknown unknowns?

    2. Snitches get stiches.

  13. To be fair, I sure wouldn’t want my neighbor in the next apartment to turn it over to a succession of noisy, dirty Eurotrash.

    But no freaking way would I rat my neighbor out to the goddamn Stasi. I would rat him out to my landlord.

    1. That seems to be a problem of violating noise levels, not of renting out the apartment.

      1. So… I get to call the cops every week on a different set of troublemakers? No thanks.

        1. You’re calling the cops on the landlord every week.

    2. Are they just being annoying, or are they, I dunno, loud-fucking? Because if it’s the latter…

      1. ……then you have no problem cause you get off to other people loud fucking wishing someone was in the bed next to you?

        You’re like the person that ogles while my junk is being woman handled in the car.



    3. One man’s Eurotrash is another man’s hot German tourist chicks.

      1. Then go live in a youth hostel.

      2. uh, you seen German chicks lately??

      3. One man’s Eurotrash is another man’s hot German tourist chicks.

        HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA, you watch too many movies dude.

  14. Folks trying to make a living without permission from dear leaders!!!!! Seize them!!!! Oh, and……. BANG BANG BANG BANG

  15. If you can’t beat ’em (or tax ’em), …get Orwellian on ’em.

  16. “Right now, it’s totally unregulated, and the law is being violated,”

    Wait, if its ‘totally unregulated’ then how can they be violating the law?

    1. Because they are violating a law they’ve yet to make silly. You know “they” know better than individuals and want their cut.

  17. Inherent in ownership is your right to sell it…or to RENT it. The homes are approved for residency. The use is not being changed, only the manner in which it is paid for, and the length of tenancy. I can’t see how anyone can take away your property right to rent something you own, in whatever manner you so choose.

  18. I always find it amusing that people like the “rent control” lady think that rent control actually helps people. They really don’t understand markets, or human nature, for that matter.

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