San Francisco

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

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Brian/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.