City rent board to investigate legality, effects of Airbnb on city housing

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The Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board voted at its meeting Monday to form an ad hoc committee to investigate the listings of rent-controlled units on Airbnb, a company that allows users to book apartments and properties online.

The formation of the committee comes after the city’s Rent Stabilization Board expressed concerns that Airbnb may be in violation of the city’s rent stabilization ordinance, which aims to provide access to stable, affordable rental housing for residents in the city of Berkeley.

“Due to Airbnb, there are fewer long-term rentals available,” said Jay Kelekian, the executive director of the Rent Stabilization Program. “The purpose of the ordinance is to maintain stability in rental-housing stock, but now, with Airbnb, rent-controlled units are being turned over every three days, causing less stability in the housing market.”

The issue was brought to the city’s attention when two Berkeley tenants, Daniel and Yenli Moore, wrote a letter to the board noting their concerns about the company’s negative effect on tenants who are not using the service.

“The introduction of Airbnb to the building has turned the home of a quiet and respectful group of professionals — with the knowledge and understanding of what it takes to live comfortably with each other — into an unpredictable, sometimes chaotic ‘anything goes’ environment,” they wrote in the letter.

If the board declares Airbnb’s actions illegal, the commissioners could potentially file a lawsuit to protect rent-controlled units, according to rent board commissioner Alejandro Soto-Vigil.

He also noted steep rent increases as a possible risk of the short-term rentals of rent-controlled units through Airbnb.

“I do want to resolve this before new-lease season comes up to ensure as many new available tenancies as possible,” Soto-Vigil added.

Airbnb could not be reached for comment on the investigation.

Other Bay Area cities have also faced issues of legality and taxation in relation to Airbnb. Recently, the city of San Francisco struck a settlement for Airbnb to pay back several-million dollars’ worth of taxes the company had previously avoided.

“If Berkeley follows suit, this issue will hopefully help the city collect taxes Airbnb owes,” Soto-Vigil said. “Airbnb can be useful, but in Berkeley, the company is breaking several regulations and not following the law.”

The committee will conduct an analysis to determine whether traditional rent-controlled housing is negatively affected by short-term rentals provided by Airbnb and whether the units listed on the Airbnb website violate the rent stabilization ordinance. Soto-Vigil said he hopes the analysis will be completed by March.

“Our biggest concern is preserving affordable housing,” Soto-Vigil said. “We are compelled to preserve rental housing stock and prevent any illegal actions that result from Airbnb’s website and services.”

Contact Emily Pedersen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @epedersendc.

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article stated that Berkeley City Council voted to establish an ad hoc committee. In fact, it was the Rent Stabilization Board.

A previous version of the headline attached to this article also stated that it was the Berkeley City Council that voted to establish an ad hoc committee. In fact, it was the Rent Stabilization Board.