Zoning is a good thing. Just ask someone who lives in a city with poor zoning. More work needs to be done to determine what impact San Francisco’s proposed rules may have, especially if short-term rentals are allowed 365 days a year.
Betty Forsyth, 83, has lived on Sunview Drive in San Francisco’s Twin Peaks neighborhood since 1956, and fondly reminisces about watching 26 neighbor kids grow up playing in the cul-de-sac.
Her son, John Forsyth, and his family live a few doors down the block, which has about three dozen single-family homes with remarkably tight-knit neighbors.
Now some of those neighbors are banding together to complain that three residences on the block — one entire house and two in-law units — are renting space to temporary visitors through the hospitality marketplace website Airbnb.
“They’re taking away the neighborhood life,” said Betty Forsyth, who prides herself on speaking her mind. “What they do with the garbage cans is despicable.” Guests neglect to put on the lids, for instance, so raccoons strew around the trash with no one around to clean it up.
“We hear TV or music until 12 or 1 a.m. three or four nights a week,” said Phil Aclan, who, with his wife and two young daughters, lives next door to a house that’s been offered full-time on Airbnb since it changed hands in late May. “Parking, trash and noise all bother us.”
The neighbors’ specific complaints about the temporary rentals seem innocuous, especially considering that the street already has some five-person group houses that impact parking.
But the cul-de-sac’s case highlights a little-explored ramification of forthcoming San Francisco legislation to legalize short-term rentals. What if several neighboring houses become impromptu hotels?
With two houses on Sunview recently vacant, the neighbors fear that the trend toward lucrative vacation visitors could accelerate.
Homes to Hotels?
“Although we originally thought (the short-term renters) would be a pain, it hasn’t been any sort of burden at all, and we’ve been on good terms with the hosters,” said neighbor Ali Shamsi. “But if it becomes the case that multiple homes on our small street start hosting Airbnb-type guests, I could see this becoming an issue — particularly if one or more homes are solely used as short term rental space. … Then we (would be) seeing a lot of new people who likely are not particularly invested in our specific community’s health, safety, etc.”
William Primozic, a 27-year resident of the block, put it more bluntly.
“How do we know that the street won’t become half hotels?” he said. “The whole purpose of zoning is to make sure neighborhoods don’t suddenly change.”
Such fears are overblown, said Amy Chan, legislative aide to Supervisor David Chiu, whose proposed legislation would legalize vacation rentals in private homes. The ordinance was heard last week by the city’s Planning Commission, which endorsed and toughened it. Next it goes to the supervisors’ Land Use Committee in September before being heard by the full Board of Supervisors.
“This is not a scenario where the legislation passes and suddenly you see every single home being used for short-term rentals,” Chan said. “Under our proposal, no residence could get rented out (to temporary visitors) full time, because it must have a primary resident, someone who lives there for the majority of the year. We are absolutely opposed to full-time conversions. We are just trying to build in flexibility for people who actually live in their homes.”
John Forsyth said he thinks neighbors should have advance input into whether nearby homes can offer temporary rentals. That is not a part of Chiu’s proposal, which includes some city enforcement if neighbors complain about short-term rentals causing problems or violating the ordinance.
Two of the Airbnb hosts on Sunview contacted by The Chronicle said they try to be good neighbors, and had not heard directly of any complaints.
“I always ask guests to be respectful of the neighbors,” said Alvaro Campos, who bought a three-bedroom house on the block on May 30 and has been renting it full-time on Airbnb since then. “If the tenants make noise, I apologize. If the neighbors are just complaining that we’re doing Airbnb, that’s kind of screwed up. We all just have to help each other one way or another.”
In fact, Campos said, the temporary rentals will end in two weeks when the lease expires on his current apartment, and he moves into the house full time.
“The only time I’ll Airbnb then is when I go out of town once in a while,” he said.
At another Airbnb rental a few doors down on Sunview, a family in town for a wedding said they appreciated staying in the quiet residential area.
“We’re just here for a place to go to bed, have coffee and go do our thing,” said David Young of Tucson. “We’re certainly not having loud parties. We liked walking to the local shops to spend money in the neighborhood.”
San Francisco’s Airbnb said that clustered rentals are unusual, although its website map shows other instances where listings are in close proximity to one another.
“Most Airbnb’s are spread out around the city and our hosts and guests are good neighbors who make communities better places to live and visit,” said spokesman Nick Papas. “Isolated anecdotes like these are rare, but if issues arise, we work with our community to try and resolve them.”
John Forsyth isn’t convinced. He also fears that short-term rentals will drive up housing prices in San Francisco, something that housing activists said has already happened.
“If this Airbnb law goes through, it will make San Francisco like an amusement park ride where you have to be this tall financially to ride,” he said. “I think that’s really wrong.”