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Home Sharing Site Airbnb Said To Influence San Francisco Evictions

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Julie-Watts_BIO-HEAD Julie Watts
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SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — San Francisco-based Airbnb has made it easier for tourists to find unique places to stay. It also helps homeowners make extra money renting out space on a short-term basis. But not everyone’s a fan of the popular home-sharing site.

Some long-time renters in San Francisco say they’re being illegally evicted by landlords trying to empty apartments for the sole purpose of renting out units for a higher price on Airbnb.

Chris Butler is one of the tenants who got the heave-ho. The start-up founder rented a small one bedroom on Union Street for nine years starting in 2003.

“It was a nice place. A small, cozy apartment,” he recalled.

But Butler says everything changed in August 2012, when his landlord evicted him from the $1860 a month rent- controlled unit. He says he was told one of the landlord’s relatives needed the unit. It’s known as an “owner move-in eviction” and it’s one of the few reasons that justify a legal eviction in renter-friendly San Francisco.

But Butler contends the landlord merely shuffled spaces around, by moving a relative already in the building into Butler’s old unit and renting out that vacated space on Airbnb.

“It’s as clear as a bell,” Butler said. “I was under rent control and they saw an opportunity to make more money.”

It’s not hard to see why. Butler says two units that are in the building are currently renting for $125 and $145 a night. By comparison, his rent worked out to about $65 a night.

Butler’s not alone, according to his lawyer Joe Tobener, who is now suing Butler’s former landlord for wrongful eviction.

A lawyer for Butler’s former landlord contends she did nothing wrong. He also says the landlord has subsequently offered the unit back to Butler.

Tobener says landlords all over the city are doing the math and realizing they can get a better return by renting units on Airbnb. He says his office gets several calls a week from unfairly-evicted renters.

“The vacation market is super lucrative in San Francisco and landlords are recognizing it.”

And Tobener claims that’s not the only way AirBnb is indirectly taking long-term rentals off the market. He says individuals are renting units a year at time, furnishing them, and renting them out on a nightly basis on Airbnb.

Airbnb contends these are aberrations. It also says, overall, the business brings money and other benefits to San Francisco.

That’s small consolation to Butler, who’s now paying double the rent that he was paying in his old place.

“My situation would not have occurred if Airbnb did not exist.”

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