How many rent-controlled apartments is Airbnb taking off SF's housing market?
"It has been difficult to corral the different stakeholders to get on the same page," Chiu said. "Airbnb has been like unraveling an onion. The more progress we make, the more issues come up."
Janan New, executive director of the San Francisco Apartment Association, says it shouldn't be so hard. "They need to enforce the law. They need to collect the hotel tax. They don't need new laws," she told us.
While the city is unlikely to simply follow New's advice, the displacement issue adds another layer to Airbnb's onion, one that sources say has become an issue of growing concern within the company, which has finally begun to respond to Guardian inquiries.
Those concerns have also been compounded as Airbnb is now being sued by one of Tobener's clients, Chris Butler, who says he was evicted from his rent-controlled Russian Hill apartment so the landlord could make more money through Airbnb (see "Airbnb profits prompted SF eviction, ex-tenant says," SF Chronicle, 1/22/14).
"We strongly support rules that keep people in their homes, and the vast majority of Airbnb hosts are regular people just trying to make ends meet," Airbnb told the Guardian. "Whatever happened in this case, we certainly do not support unscrupulous landlords who evict long term tenants solely to turn their apartments into short-term rentals, but it is important to note that experts have found such cases to be extremely rare."
Airbnb didn't respond to our follow-up questions, but those "expert" findings appear to be a reference to a study the company commissioned late last year from Berkeley-based Rosen Consulting Group entitled "Short-Term Rentals and Impact on Apartment Market."
But that study of Airbnb's impact to rental housing in San Francisco doesn't really draw the conclusions that company seems to think and hope it does.
One number that the study and Airbnb have repeatedly sought to highlight is the claim that "90 percent of Airbnb hosts in San Francisco use Airbnb to occasionally rent out only the home in which they live," as the company put it to us.
"Airbnb users generally do not identify themselves as utilizing short-term rentals as a business. In fact, 90 percent of Airbnb hosts [in San Francisco] indicated that they live in the home listed on Airbnb," was how the study put it.
"It's trash. They pick and choose the data they want to share," Tobener said of the study and the 90 percent figure, which he says was derived from a 2011 user survey before the local housing market exploded. Rosner Consulting told us it stands by the study but won't discuss it.
The figure also lumped in those with multiple rooms in their homes that have traditionally been rented by local residents and covered by rent-control laws. It also discloses that 10 percent of Airbnb hosts are renting out outside units simply as a business, a figure that has likely risen over the last three years.
The study does disclose that there were 1,576 properties booked through the company in August 2012, which the study notes was just 0.4 percent of the 378,000 homes in San Francisco, which Airbnb uses to dismiss its impacts on the market.
But the study includes only macroeconomic data, rather than looking at the company's impact on certain socioeconomic groups — such as those making 120 percent or less of median area income, the people being evicted from and priced out of the city — or the supply of rent-controlled housing.
"The average gross income per Airbnb property in the previous 12 months was $6,722, or an average of $564 per month," the study discloses, choosing to use average rather than median figures even though they're considered less accurate gauges of income and housing data.