City launches new registry to rein in Airbnb

Rules on short-term rentals aim to protect neighbors, housing supply

Carrielynn and David Haedtler change the pillow shams in a guest room in their home in Mountain View on Aug. 7. The couple rents out two rooms and a backyard cottage through Airbnb. Photo by Magali Gauthier

After years of consideration, Mountain View officials are finally ready to begin regulating the fast-growing cottage industry of Airbnb and other short-term rental services.

Under a new registry system that launched last month, city officials will begin enforcing new rules on the hundreds of bedrooms, apartments and homes that have been converted into short-term lodgings within the city. All hosts will soon be required to pay for fees for business licenses, registration and hotel taxes.

"We firmly believe that people operating short-term rentals in Mountain View want to be compliant with the city's rules," said Melvin Gaines, city management analyst. "At this point, we are really trying to be educational, and not punitive."

It's fair to say these fees and rules have been a long time coming. For more than a decade, Airbnb and its rivals have faced minimal taxes and scrutiny from city officials. By taking this approach, the city essentially waived more than $1 million in annual taxes. In turn, the number of short-term rentals has ballooned, growing to about 850 listings spread across platforms such as Airbnb, VRBO and, according to city estimates.

The new regulations are expected to clamp down on reports of apartments being converted into de facto hotels, creating a variety of problems. For some neighborhoods, unregulated Airbnb homes have generated noise, parking and garbage complaints. Meanwhile, housing advocates blame the unfettered short-term rental industry for exacerbating the regional housing shortage.

To give one example, Prometheus Real Estate Group has been using short-term rental sites to fill unoccupied apartments in at least three of its Mountain View residential properties. These apartments, some of which are rent-controlled units, are listed for between $200 to $300 a night.

A resident at Prometheus' Madrone Apartments told the Voice she recently found that several units at her complex were being leased out like hotel rooms on short-term rental sites. She was disturbed by the practice, saying it seemed like a shady trick to pull amid the brutal housing crisis. She asked for her name to be withheld over fears of retaliation.

"It seems like because they have rent stabilization, they're trying to get a higher price," she said. "I just don't trust that they're following the rules, and these apartments already aren't worth what they're making us pay."

Prometheus representatives did not respond to a request for comment.

Under the new city rules going into effect, landlords will be prohibited from renting out homes or apartments on sites like Airbnb for more than 60 days per year. City officials say they wanted to give some flexibility for homeowners to temporarily rent out their properties if they leave the area, such as for an extended vacation. The 60-day cap, they believe, will make it unprofitable for speculators to buy up homes just to convert them to Airbnb rentals.

If hosts are living at their property while taking in guests, by renting out a spare bedroom or granny unit, then they will face no limit and they can operate it 365 days a year.

Surprisingly, some Airbnb hosts are welcoming the new regulations. For years, Mountain View resident David Haedtler has taken in Airbnb guests at his Slater neighborhood house as a way to make ends meet. His children moved out years ago, so it made sense to rent out his two spare bedrooms and an unused backyard cottage, he said.

Haedtler said he was sanguine about the new rules, and other local Airbnb hosts whom he's chatted with generally feel the same way.

"It took them a while, but I think the city of Mountain View did it right," he said. "This solves the problem of people buying up properties and reducing our housing stock."

When it comes to enforcing these regulations, the city will be treading lightly. The emphasis for now would be on educating hosts to register and comply, according to city staffers.

Any hosts who fail to register with the city will be given a warning. After that point, they could receive a $500 fine, or $1,000 if it takes three warnings. Any absent hosts who rent out their houses or apartments for more than 60 days per year could be fined $500 per day.

San Francisco-based company Host Compliance has been hired by the city of Mountain View to handle enforcement and analyze the local rental listings to single out any hosts who are skirting the rules. The company will also operate a 24-hour-a-day hotline for complaints or concerns.

City staffers say that drafting a contract with Host Compliance took longer than expected, which forced them to push back their deadline for when full enforcement will begin. All short-term rental hosts are now expected to be registered and fully compliant with city rules by Sept. 1.

When the new regulations fully come online, all short-term rental hosts will be expected to operate like independent businesses, paying fees similar to those levied on hotels and other lodgings. Mountain View is expected to receive at least $1.26 million in hotel taxes from Airbnb and similar services.

Clarification: An earlier version of this story reported a city estimate from last year that there were about 1,000 short-term rentals in Mountain View. City officials now say they their latest numbers indicate there are about 850.

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24 people like this
Posted by Thank goodness
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Aug 8, 2019 at 2:28 pm

Thank goodness is a registered user.

The Air BnB in my neighborhood is operated like a cheap hotel and our formerly quiet block now has double or triple the traffic, random people waiting in cars to check in to the bunk beds, the police being called, people overdosing, urine bottles and condoms on the streets, creepy guys coming and going at all hours, men making lewd comments at women standing in their own yards and on and on. This is really overdue and I hope it makes a difference.

I'm worried the enforcement will be lax based on Mr. Gaines' statement that people running these things really want to do the right thing, however. Hopefully this Host Compliance company will be smart enough to weed out the law-abiding homeowners from the profiteers who don't give a fig about the impact on the neighbors.

9 people like this
Posted by Dan Waylonis
a resident of Jackson Park
on Aug 8, 2019 at 2:36 pm

Dan Waylonis is a registered user.

Another revenue grab by the city. I guess those expensive public employee pensions won't pay for themselves.

1 person likes this
Posted by MVFlyer
a resident of St. Francis Acres
on Aug 8, 2019 at 2:38 pm

Anyone know how the city will enforce this rule? For law-abiding folks who register, this should not be a problem. But for others who want to skirt the law and rent out their house/apartment as de facto hotel rooms, why would they bother to register?

11 people like this
Posted by home is castle
a resident of Gemello
on Aug 8, 2019 at 2:42 pm

@dan - Another revenue grab by the city.

Why should one type of room provider pay fees and the other skate?

This law needs to be STRONGER!!!

6 people like this
Posted by Polomom
a resident of Waverly Park
on Aug 8, 2019 at 2:45 pm

Polomom is a registered user.

The listings on those short term rental platforms need to include the permit #/tax ID number. Any listing without these is illegal. Easy to scan the listings in map view on many of these sites.

9 people like this
Posted by Tanuj
a resident of The Crossings
on Aug 8, 2019 at 2:45 pm

Can't wait to report all the Airbnb's in our HOA. Short-term leasing is prohibited in the CC&Rs so these scofflaw homeowners won't even be able to apply and qualify for a business license. The City will have to start enforcing on day one. Their time is up.

20 people like this
Posted by @Dan
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Aug 8, 2019 at 2:49 pm

@Dan is a registered user.

Actually it's the roads, trash, police and other city services that don't pay for themselves. I have up to 16 people staying in bunkbeds in an Air BnB nearby. You think they don't have an impact on the things taxpayers are footing the bill for? They sure do -- and the city should absolutely be getting revenue from the "host" that is profiting from it.

21 people like this
Posted by psr
a resident of The Crossings
on Aug 8, 2019 at 2:54 pm

psr is a registered user.

@thank goodness

I doubt that people renting a room are the people that you are talking about. Those are more likely RV dwellers doing those things and the city is definitely NOT doing anything to curb that traffic. If anything, they are encouraging more to come, while chiding surrounding communities that aren't willing to play fast and loose with the quality of life of the people footing the bill.

Bravo, MV City Council. You target people in their own homes doing a little business to make ends meet so that you can squeeze even more money out of them. Meanwhile, you are allowing grifters to take up residence on our city streets without making them contribute nickle one toward the services they use or for cleaning up the messes they make. Way to show the actual residents of this city where they belong on the food chain.

Your lack of reason and common sense are astounding.

8 people like this
Posted by Jake O.
a resident of Rengstorff Park
on Aug 8, 2019 at 2:57 pm

I'd love to see where the 1 million in taxes will go. I hope to see an improvement somewhere in this city. For as much money that MV makes, I never see much for it. If there's a way for MV to stick their hands in peoples pockets, I'd expect them to. Rather then just letting people do what they want on their own property. As long as it's legal of course

10 people like this
Posted by home is castle
a resident of Gemello
on Aug 8, 2019 at 3:09 pm

Jake: "I'd love to see where the 1 million in taxes will go."

Here ya go: Web Link

Anything else we can google for you, Jake?

6 people like this
Posted by Master of Coin
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Aug 8, 2019 at 3:49 pm

Master of Coin is a registered user.

Where is the actual website / form to fill out to register? Can the article provide a link to it? It's kinda crazy that compliance is required by 9/1, yet we're still talking about "When the new regulations fully come online..."

20 people like this
Posted by @psr again
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Aug 8, 2019 at 3:55 pm

@psr again is a registered user.

This has absolutely nothing to do with RV dwellers. We have none near anywhere the Air BnB that's causing the issues. So don't mansplain my own neighborhood to me so you can push your pet grievance.

12 people like this
Posted by Polomom
a resident of Waverly Park
on Aug 8, 2019 at 4:03 pm

Polomom is a registered user.

The County of Honolulu (which is the entire island of Oahu) is enforcing short term rentals not in compliance with their laws since 8/1. The fine is $ 10 000 if you advertise your rental ( less than 30 days) on any of those rental platforms without Tax ID/permit #. The county of HNL used a software program to send letters to all property owners ( 5000) renting on these platforms, there were mistakes, properties sold, no longer used as AirBnb's, listings using vague addresses making their neighbor take the blame etc.A phone hotline handled 800 complaints in the first week very efficiently. Bottom line: the city can easily find out most property owners and handle this directly. This is Silicon Valley, one would hope the software is available here, too.

12 people like this
Posted by Fair
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 8, 2019 at 5:26 pm

Some of those RV are rentals. The owners get about $600-$800 a month... Cash. I'm pretty sure the owners are declaring it. ;)

BTW: There is an app to help RVs to find a place park... Walmart etc. It's called, "Parky" on Google Play.

Like this comment
Posted by Polomom
a resident of Waverly Park
on Aug 8, 2019 at 5:33 pm

Polomom is a registered user.

Parky is not reliable, the MV Walmart is a no overnight parking Walmart. Look at the reviews from last month. People got chased away.

Like this comment
Posted by SRB
a resident of St. Francis Acres
on Aug 9, 2019 at 8:06 am

Glad the city will finally collect hotel taxes on guests. Overall a good set of rules which shouldn’t change much for the true mom and pop hosts (spare bedroom, whole home if away on vacation ...)

In terms of enforcement city should focus on housing (not hotel) operators like Prometheus

9 people like this
Posted by Polomom
a resident of Waverly Park
on Aug 9, 2019 at 8:33 am

Polomom is a registered user.

@SRB yes, Prometheus was given the developmental rights to provide housing, not hotel services. And to think they probably got away not paying any TOT, which in MV is 10% a night for any guest staying in a hotel. Our rents will never come down in MV, if we let the large rental companies find a way to make the empty units short term rentals, with no strings attached.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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