The sordid saga of Airbnb — a $10 billion “outlaw middleman” — continues

Pub date March 20, 2014
SectionPolitics Blog

SF-based Airbnb is making news again this week, from the San Francisco Chronicle following up our stories about how landlords are sending eviction notices to tenants who are breaking their leases and local laws in using the short-term rental services to national outlets trumpeting Airbnb’s estimated $10 billion in valuation, which is more than some of the biggest hotel chains.

But nobody seems to be calling out how those two things are connected, except perhaps in ValleyWag’s passing but spot-on reference to the SF-based company as an “outlaw middleman.” That’s a good label for a scofflaw company that is making buckets of money by openly flouting tenant and tax laws in San Francisco, New York City, and other cities around the world.

Meanwhile, as the City Attorney’s Office continues preparing to take legal action against Airbnb, new companies are popping up to make it even easier for residents to illegally monetize their rent-controlled apartments, such as, which encourage people to “profit from your home or apartment by renting out unused space through a full service management marketplace.”

The company charges people 18 percent to manage their Airbnb rentals, checking guests in and out, cleaning up, and whatnot. And most of its testimonials are from San Franciscans, such as Rob, who writes, “I used to spend hours managing my Airbnb, exchanging keys with guests, and cleaning. Now, Airenvy does all that for me.”

Breaking local laws against short-term rentals has never been easier! All this infuriates Janan New of the San Francisco Apartment Association, who tells the Guardian that more than 1,100 rent-control apartments are listed on Airbnb at any time, and she’s been working with landlords to identify and evict such tenants.

Yet she denies that many landlords are using Airbnb to get around rent-control laws — such short-term rentals are also usually illegal, even for owners — and told us, “If people are breaking the law on our side, I want to know who it is.”

And as this highly lucrative clusterfuck continues, Board of Supervisors President David Chiu is still mired in his year-long efforts to create a legislative remedy for all of this. But Airbnb seems to be taking its local political problems seriously, this week hiring David Owen — a well-connected former legislative aide to Chiu’s predecessor, Aaron Peskin — away from Platinum Advisors to work on public policy for the company.

Stay tuned, folks, there’s lots more to come on an issue that the Guardian started covering years ago when few were paying attention to how an illegal business model was being used to create a multi-billion-dollar company.