San Francisco city attorney Dennis Herrera has sued several landlords he alleges evicted their tenants in order to list the apartments for elevated rates on short-term rental sites like Airbnb.
In a statement released Wednesday, Herrera announced these are only the first of many investigations his office is conducting in effort to crack down on housing violations aggravating the city’s escalating unaffordability.
“In the midst of a housing crisis of historic proportions, illegal short-term rental conversions of our scarce residential housing stock risks becoming a major contributing factor,” he said. “We intend to crack down hard on unlawful conduct that’s exacerbating -- and in many cases profiting from -- San Francisco’s alarming lack of affordable housing.”
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The first lawsuit names defendants Darren and Valerie Lee and alleges they illegally invoked the Ellis Act, a controversial provision that allows landlords to expel their tenants in order to leave the rental business, when they evicted residents from three of their Pacific Heights dwellings in 2005. According to the suit, the couple began short-term renting the units on HomeAway.com and VRBO.com in 2009 for between $395 and $595 per night. As per Ellis Act code, the Lees were restricted from re-renting the units at that increased rate until August 25, 2011.
One of the evicted residents was a disabled tenant who had been living in the apartment for ten years and paid $1,087 a month, Herrera alleges. After evicting him, the Lees could have made as much as $17,850 a month on the space if rented every night at the highest rate mentioned in the lawsuit.
Another lawsuit cites defendants Lev, Tamara and Tatyana Yurovsky for similar violations -- one of which also involved a disabled resident -- at two Fisherman’s Wharf properties they began renting through Airbnb and GreatSFVacation.com for as much as $320 a night.
In an emailed statement, an Airbnb spokesperson told The Huffington Post that it does not support such use of its services and believes these incidents are not widespread.
“Airbnb is committed to making cities stronger and more affordable, and the vast majority of our hosts do just that,” the company stated. “If a small number of predatory landlords are abusing platforms like ours to illegally evict tenants in search of a quick buck, we wholeheartedly support efforts to bring those landlords to justice and applaud the City Attorney for his actions.”
The lawfulness of Airbnb and other short-term rentals is currently under review in San Francisco, where Board of Supervisors president David Chiu has introduced legislation that bans such “hotel-ization” of dwellings year-round but allows primary residents to rent out spaces they live in for three-quarters of the year.