Commencement weekend leads to spike in Airbnb use, press release says

Audrey McNamara/Senior Staff

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Airbnb announced in a press release this past Friday that because of the upcoming UC Berkeley commencement weekend, the company would host more than 44,000 guest nights in Berkeley and Oakland — generating a total of $8 million in economic activity for the two cities.

The legality of “hosting” — temporarily renting your home or room — through companies such as Airbnb in Berkeley is still largely unclear.

“Right now it’s technically still illegal, so it’s very concerning that they’re boasting about all of those units,” said Berkeley Rent Board Commissioner Leah Simon-Weisberg.

According to Simon-Weisberg, in Berkeley, if you have rented your residential unit in the past 10 years it is illegal to host it on Airbnb. While homeowners are allowed to host, the potential host is required to apply for a permit through the city to do so.

The city of Berkeley, however, does not currently have a licensing or permitting process in place for potential hosts to apply through.

According to fellow Rent Board Commissioner Igor Tregub, hosting for Airbnb is indeed “illegal” — but legal measures have been in place for less than a year, starting in December.

An ordinance was passed in December 2016, making Airbnb — for homeowners — legal in Berkeley for the very first time. This ordinance was then amended in April of this year removing the requirement for host zoning certificates and business licenses. The city is currently in the process of implementing the amended ordinance.

The typical nightly price on Airbnb this past weekend was $62, according to the press release. “Families across California are using Airbnb for their student’s graduation at UC Berkeley because our platform is perfect for multi-generational family travel,” said Jasmine Mora, press secretary for Airbnb.

Simon-Weisberg expressed concern that landlords may be using housing for short-term rentals the city needs for housing, making these units into quasi-hotels instead of using existing ones.

According to Tregub, cities with a proliferation of short-term rentals have found an increase in rents above what would have been in the absence of such short-term rentals.

“I think the reality is that we have the worst housing crisis in the history of Berkeley; I am not one to lay judgement on people trying to keep a roof over their head,” Tregub said.

Ian McHenry, co-founder and CEO of Beyond Pricing, a company that optimizes pricing for short-term rentals, says placing blame on Airbnb for the housing crisis is a “scapegoat” tactic. Instead, he points to the influx of people to the Bay Area as its central cause.

“The life of one tenant or a member of a tenant’s household that has been displaced or cannot find housing in Berkeley due to short-term rentals taking up long-term rentals — it’s hard to put a price on that,” Tregub said.

Audrey McNamara is the executive news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @McNamaraAud.