He moved to NYC, and became Airbnb’s bitch

Last Summer a friend of mine got married in San Francisco, and through Airbnb, the website that allows individuals to rent out lodging, rented an entire house above the Castro for his traveling guests.

A large balcony overlooked the skyline, but it was difficult to enjoy because an unreasonable neighbor called the owner to complain if anyone so much as laughed too loudly. On at least three occasions in one afternoon calls came in telling us the neighbor, who we dubbed “Buzz Killington,” was complaining.

Less than a year later I’m living with my brother in New York when a Wall Street guy rented the loft downstairs, then the steady stream of tourists began cycling through. “Nah I’m not even living there! I get over $500 a night through Airbnb,” the Wall Street guy, seemingly drunk, boasted to another neighbor, who needless to say wasn’t as impressed with him as he was with himself.

butler concierge

Concierge via Shutterstock

While Airbnb probably works fine when properly-hosted, there are numerous issues that arise when hotel guests are living among you, sans the accompanying hotel staff. Someone’s always locked out and looking to neighbors to allow them into the building. “Where are you going?” my brother asked a guy who pushed past him at the door. “Upstairs, asshole,” the tourist replied.

Sometimes guests decide to party on the rooftop directly above us, which is prohibited, and they often ask for directions and advice. This morning, not knowing what to do with unwanted garbage, a group of tourists just left the bag in the foyer, where it still remains.

Basically, the neighbors are expected to be the doormen, concierge, security, and porters for the self-satisfied Wall Street Airbnb operator who rented the unit under false pretenses in a city with a severe housing shortage.

With each passing day I’m more empathetic to good ole Buzz Killington, who didn’t sign up to live next door to a flophouse and listen to an endless stream of cackling tourists two feet from his back window.

When I think of that neighbor calling the Airbnb operator dozens of times a week, I now think to myself, “Give ‘em Hell, Buzz! Give ‘em Hell.”


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Chris Andoe is a St. Louis based writer and seasoned activist. After meeting John Aravosis at a Chicago “StopDrLaura.com” protest in 2000, Chris was inspired to organize his own major demonstrations in St. Louis, his adopted hometown, which drew national attention. Since then, his activism has revolved around LGBT, affordable housing, and mass transit issues. While living in San Francisco, Andoe made headlines taking on the amorphous hacker group Anonymous for publishing nude photos of a Bay Area Rapid Transit spokesperson, saying “Puritanical shame-based tactics have no place in the capital of sexual liberation”, and he extensively covered the city’s jarring gentrification, from mass evictions to the nudity ban. Back in St. Louis Andoe’s hosted public events on the subway and elsewhere as “The Emperor,” and writes the Tales from the Emperor column for Vital Voice Magazine. Always in the fray, Andoe’s been interviewed by NPR, CBS, and has been quoted from CNN to The St. Louis Post Dispatch. His upcoming book of short stories, Delusions of Grandeur, is expected out early next year. Twitter: @EmperorAndoe

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  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Condos almost always come with a condo association attached to ‘em. I’d wager ten thousand dollars of Mitt Romney’s money a ban on VRBO, Airbnb, et al. will be brought up at the next association meeting at that place…

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    I think you used an appropriate term there: Hotelling.

    There’s a world of difference between someone using a service for short-term rental of a sofa-bed or bedroom for one well-vetted person or perhaps a couple — while the owner is living there in the space and supervising the stay — versus someone who only owns the space but doesn’t live there and is literally running it as an unlicensed, uninsured, unmonitored hotel room in a residential building.

    What’s sad and funny is if someone tried to have a party like that at a REAL hotel or motel, guests would complain and management would toss ‘em right out. Which unfortunately demonstrates the powerfully asshole-attractant nature of these new faux-hotel schemes.

    And even if the services issue assurances that anybody who has complaints against them won’t be allowed to rent through the service again — guess what? That party of 70 French students will just find someone among them who hasn’t been blackballed and have them do the rental.

  • InSF23Years

    Twice now, I have had an upstairs neighbor rent our their flat to visitors, who then proceeded to flood my apartment because they couldn’t figure out how to take a bath without overfilling the bathtub (there’s an overflow drain that isn’t hooked up to plumbing, old clawfoot tub). Twice! Fie on AirBnB and the like.

  • http://musephotos.wordpress.com/ GarySFBCN

    There a move to outlaw AirBnB in San Francisco. Someone already chipped-in $20k to get it on the ballot.

    In my other home, there have been so many problems with hotelling guests in a unit in our building that we are two more calls to the police from being able to deny the offending owner access to his unit for three years. That means no access at all – it will be sealed and if he enters, the building association will put a lien on the unit and then we will force a sale.

    What has been happening is very loud parties. Last weekend it was kids from France, more than 70 of them. The vomited, broke bottles and glasses and littered most of the common area and kept everyone awake until 4am. The police came and forced everyone to leave, including the hotellers.

    We have a adjoining terraces and in the morning there were about 50 cigarette butts that they just tossed over the fence. (Next time, I’ll be waiting with the garden hose handy – the first anything that comes over the fence will get a wet response).

    It isn’t nearly the nightmare for us as it is for everyone else in the building. Even though we have an adjoining terraces, we have no common walls and our unit is somewhat isolated from the rest. Still, in the east ‘wing’ of our small unit, the loud music is unbearable, so we hang out on the west side.

    I didn’t buy into an ‘apart-hotel’. I bought into a residential building and will work to eliminate any changes to this without iron-clad written contracts that specify the processes for accountability, liability and recourse when things go wrong.

  • Mark_in_MN

    Especially in your area, and not a few other places, mandating green grass lawns is indeed a big problem. I would also add other limits on landscaping, regulating what color you can paint your house, pets, signs, and the like.

    And, yes, your road would be something I’d find a justifiable agreement under the rubric of “maintenance of the commons” as you nicely put it.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    So would I — like to see most HOAs abolished, that is. The absolute worst, in my not-so-humble opinion, are the ones that mandate people waste water to keep a green grass lawn, even during a drought.

    However HOAs do exist and so far, unfortunately, been upheld in the courts. No matter how odious or controlling.

    Believe it or not though, my wife and I have a house that’s kind-of part of a HOA — but the entire extent of it consists of mutual maintenance of our shared private road, with just three families involved. ‘Maintenance of the commons’ I do think falls under the category you mentioned, of a justified mutual agreement.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Unfortunately the ‘investor’ is just another flavor of the “assholes who will ruin it for everybody” — the other being, as Chris and others have mentioned, irresponsible asshole guests. Doesn’t matter if 99% are doing it right; just 1% can ruin it for all, especially if there any ‘flashy’ disasters.

    Like I said below, I think the days of apartment, condo and house renters doing Airbnb are numbered. I already know for a fact if I owned a place and was renting it out right now, I’d be putting “may not let out via Airbnb (or any comparable service) under any circumstances and any sublet (whether by room or as a whole, regardless of duration) can only be with the landlord’s written consent” into any rental agreement.

    Will people still try to cheat? Sure. And that’ll inevitably result in evictions.

    So that leaves the actual owners and that big ‘investor Airbnb host’ loophole. Assuming there’s no HOA involved, that puts it into the purview of government regulation — local, state and/or federal — and there, it’ll take longer, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a flood of lobbying money from the hotel/motel industry. I also would expect the insurance industry to get involved, because I can’t imagine, for example, State Farm and other home insurance companies to be happy about the increased liability and risks involved.

  • Mark_in_MN

    Except in a condo situation where someone needs to have some control over the building in which all the units exist, I find the notion of a home-owner association rather repugnant. It’s bad enough that they usually are not voluntary associations, but it seems to me they cross the line once they move beyond maintaining any common property or amenities (which I think should be the preview of democratically elected local government or, as with a community center or some-such, private and voluntary organizations, anyway). There would have to be something really compelling about a (non-condo) home before I’d buy one attached to a home-owners association. I’d be happy to see home-owner associations abolished.

  • Mark_in_MN

    I have no problem with someone wanting to rent their spare room to travelers for a night or two. (I wouldn’t do it myself, but that’s a different issue.) But I would expect that the owner or regular occupant would be hosting, even if the paying guest is mostly left to themselves. Renting out a unit or house where one doesn’t live, or when one is away, is a different matter. Some level of regulation, but a level much less than most currently hotel or other such lodging entities, may well be appropriate. But we shouldn’t regulate the practice out of existence. The owner absent variety Chris described should be subject to much more stringent requirements to prevent the nuisance they really can cause. But to simply say that a home owner can’t provide a bed for paying guests as a supplement to income seems to me part of an ongoing and inappropriate attempt to overly compartmentalize and controlled life (the same impulse that leads to the dearth of integrated-use neighborhoods with businesses and residents side-by-side and related to so much of the NIMBYism that we find all over the place.).

  • lucyboots

    Originally billed as a way to leverage your own home, investors have ruined AirBnB. In San Francisco, some people would rent rooms in order to afford their mortgages. Like NYC, SF has laws against it and they have not only begun enforcing them, but they have leveraged some obscure language in another law to take the homes from the homeowners. So far this apparently is only happening in the much vaunted Market/Mission corridor. One suspects these homes will eventually be sold and torn down for more luxury housing (assuming you consider 700 sf studio luxury).

  • LanceThruster

    All business models must include dealing with the lowest common denominator who, by their very nature, will ‘ruin it for everyone.’

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    I think that while on an informal basis, this particular practice will never be eliminated, but as a business model it’s doomed to eventual failure and will be effectively regulated out of existence. As you say, Chris, the problem isn’t the decent folks who just need a place to crash and will be quiet and cause no problems for the neighbors.

    It’s the assholes who’ll ruin it for everyone else. And it doesn’t take that many assholes to make that happen.

    There’s a reason hotels, motels and actual B&Bs exist. And there are further reasons why they carry significant damage and indemnity insurance — which virtually none of these Airbnb folks do.

    As ever, the response is lagging behind the legal framework, but it’ll come. Within the next year or two, look for standard “you may not sub-let or use this rental for Airbnb or similar services” boilerplate to begin appearing in all house, condo, and apartment rental contracts. HOAs (home-owner association) agreements will have the same, especially in all those still-popular gated communities and condo-clusters. And eventually municipalities will start passing regulations, in response to public complaints.

    Having lived in the SF Bay Area for a decade, up until 2006, I still read the news from there — and they’re already talking about trying to put a stop to it, for all of the reasons you cited above in your post, Chris. Up to and including “it’s a security and public safety issue.” I can just about guarantee if there’s some major incident, such as an Airbnb ‘guest’ who burns down an apartment building, or is caught raping a neighboring resident, or even a sufficient accumulation of instances of destruction or theft (which is already happening), the practice will be shut down. Or more to the point, returned to the informal “don’t let the landlord see you here” level it was before these services took off.

  • Indigo

    I use Airbnb without negative side-effects but I’m not surprised to learn that a passel of hyenas misuse it and take unsuitable advantage. Airbnb needs to monitor its clients more carefully.

  • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

    If he’s renting or owns a co-op there are indeed rules and they owners can get him evicted. I’m surprised that the neighbors haven’t complained enough to make that happen. I sublet once (legally through a loop-hole in the deed) in a co-op building in Queens and I’ve never been surrounded by more people up in my business 24/7 and I say that as someone who grew up Southern Baptist in East Texas.

  • BlueIdaho

    Another big site is VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owner). My partner and I used it this year to rent a condo in Pheonix for the month of February. We are very quiet, low key tenants and didn’t think much about it until one of the condo owners stopped us on the sidewalk and asked why he saw so many different people using the unit. I told him it was a VRBO rental and he didn’t look very happy. I’m sure it can be a problem if you get a bunch of hell raisers in there for a month.

  • emjayay

    Renting a room in your detached house while you are there is one thing. In any apartment building or other urban situation it’s another. NYC has laws against this stuff which are widely ignored. Renting a place when you aren’t there is particularly bad and illegal. If someone (highly unlikely – there’s only one two bedroom apartment) in my small Brooklyn building did it I would be the first to call the police, not just the owner. Maybe every law doesn’t have a good reason, but most do. Screw ‘em.

    Having an evil real neighbor in an urban situation like in San Francisco, where I lived and yes I had one, where the houses are 25 feet wide and touch the one next door is bad enough. (With good neighbors, it is an excellent solution to fairly dense housing.)

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