Protesters gathered in San Francisco’s North Beach neighbourhood Tuesday to protest both Ellis Act evictions and Airbnb.
The protest was sparked when several renters were “Ellised” from their Mason Street residence, which was then converted to full-time short-term rentals. The organisers of the event maintained that this is not just a moral issue, but also a legal one.
“These are illegal units, and the city needs to do something,” said Sarah Sherbum-Zimmer of the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco during the protest.
After speaking in front of more than a dozen protesters, the group began marching through the North Beach neighbourhood, placing neon-coloured warning stickers signifying a building is being used for illegal short-term rentals through Airbnb or similar services.
The Ellis Act is a 30 year-old law that gives landlords a just cause to evict tenants as long as they the landlord leaves the rental business. Written to help landlords safely transition out of the business, the law is often taken advantage of and helps some landlords make quick money at their tenants’ expense.
Director of the San Francisco Tenant’s Union Ted Gullicksen agreed with Sherbum-Zimmer, saying, “We need an aggressive enforcement campaign quickly. We need some high profile lawsuits.”
And while they may not be the high profile suits Gullicksen is talking about, the union itself has filed 10 lawsuits against landlords and plans to file 40 more this week. He says the group wants to send a message to landlords that relying on short-term rentals rather than renting to city residents is not ok.
Gullicksen explained that these operations actually violate two separate San Francisco laws: one prohibiting short-term property rentals in any capacity, and another stopping landlords from operating hotels outside of specifically zoned areas. The buildings on Mason Street technically fit the city’s definition for hotel, the Tenant’s Union director said.
For the most part the group was not protesting Airbnb, which has agreed to help police illegal listings on its site and will take them down upon request, Gullicksen said.
“We continue to support amendments to pending legislation that would remove any incentive for a speculator to abuse the Ellis Act to convert housing intended for permanent residents into short-term rentals in San Francisco,” Airbnb spokesman Nick Papas said in a statement to Business Insider. He added that the particular Mason Street building where the protest took place was never listed on Airbnb. Protesters stickered it anyway.
“It’s one thing for people to rent out their primary residency,” Sherbum-Zimmer said. “It’s something else for landlords to rent out entire buildings.”
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