Airbnb joins in support of Ellis Act reform and the stakes may be higher than they seem

By Dan Raile , written on May 5, 2014

From The News Desk

Last week, I wrote that, a hybrid civic/technology industry advocacy group, had issued a letter to members of the California Senate’s Judiciary Committee, urging that body to pass an Ellis Act reform bill that goes before them tomorrow.

The letter was signed by 75 San Francisco companies, most all of them from the “tech” sector, and expressed's and its members’ support for the bill authored by Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and solidarity with those San Franciscans who have been evicted from their homes through no fault of their own.

“[S]peculators are exploiting a loophole in the act that allows them to buy a building and then immediately 'exit the rental business' through mass evictions of low and middle-income tenants. The stories are heartbreaking, with families, seniors, and disabled San Franciscans losing their long-term homes.”

When the letter was circulated last Wednesday there was at least one glaring omission in the list of 75 member companies listed at its bottom: Airbnb.

That company has recently been subjected to a proposed rule-change of its own in San Francisco, related in part to the way its platform can be abused by bad-acting landlords who take advantage of current regulatory uncertainty and lax enforcement, using the Ellis Act to remove tenants and shirking rent control by running de facto small hotels to the detriment of prospective renters and the rental market as a whole.

Horror stories about such activities have been circulating widely in the local press and seem to have gathered a level of legitimacy with David Chiu’s announcement of the new regulatory framework and City Attorney Dennis Herrera filing suit against a batch of offending landlords last month.

So it seemed strange that, when announced the broad support of San Francisco’s “tech” industry for the reform, Airbnb should be missing from the list. The company has certainly tried to reverse the perception that it enables naughty landlords or has a negative impact on San Francisco’s housing troubles in recent months. Airbnb is an member, and the opportunity to join the letter would have been a small if easy measure toward improving their image.

Last week as I prepared my article, Airbnb’s media relations wouldn’t comment on the letter, but promised there would be a relevant announcement today. And here it is, copied, in full, straight out of my email:

“We strongly oppose predatory real estate speculators who wrongfully evict tenants and we support Ellis Act Reform and this legislation.”

So there you have it: pretty much the same language as Conway and company used last week, condensed into single sentence. Airbnb wouldn’t comment on why it hadn’t joined in the letter campaign.

And neither Airbnb nor had anything to say about the Ellis Act reform bill that failed to pass the Judiciary Committee in the State Assembly last week. That bill, authored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), would have allowed San Francisco the authority to declare a moratorium on Ellis Act evictions, afforded evicted tenants more recourse to fight their eviction in court, and would have removed all information of no-fault eviction from the credit reports of those evicted.

Ammiano’s bill was heavily amended before reaching the Judiciary Committee, but the Assemblyman would not remove those three points and the bill died a lonely death, with four Democrats in favor, three abstaining, and three Republican assembly members against. It had required six votes to pass.

Assemblymember Ammiano’s office told Pando that the failure of AB 2405 is attributable to the influence of a campaign against it by groups representing apartment owner and real estate interests. That much is pretty clear from the smeary language of a post on the California Apartment Association celebrating the end of the bill and urging a focusing of efforts on this week’s vote in the Senate.

Tomorrow we will find out if the support of San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, along with Ron Conway and the SF “tech” industry, can outweigh the influence of homeowners and real estate lobbies. So stay tuned for that.

Conway and have a difficult struggle in the divisive political landscape of contemporary San Francisco. On the one hand they must mitigate the perception that they represent what many in San Francisco consider an unholy alliance between City Hall and the "tech" industry, resulting in favorable outcomes for the industry from behind closed doors. They must also be able to mobilize the support of the companies they count as members, and convince both elected and business leaders that partnership is palatable in terms of both politics and PR. Success means not only the ability to exert influence, but to do so in a way that clearly benefits the public good.’s Alex Tourk told Pando today that their efforts to support the Senate bill and tenants' rights generally have come together over a number of months, and will be ongoing regardless of the outcome of tomorrow’s vote. He had this to say about Airbnb’s involvement with’s efforts:

“Airbnb is working internally and considering support for the bill and we will be in regular communication as the legislative process is a marathon, not a sprint.”

That marathon could come to an early end tomorrow for SB 1439, and provide a hint of just how much weight a strident letter and committed support from San Francisco’s civic innovation advocacy leader and 75 companies “with over 35,000 employees” in the city really have in Sacramento these days. It should be surprising and instructive either way.

[image via wikipedia]