Airbnb finds SF hostel territory

Polaroids of guests at the Treat St. Clubhouse, a hostel-style Airbnb.

Zain Memon, 28, and Duncan Graham, 26, both technicians, were looking for a way to pay San Francisco’s astronomical rents.

So they tried an experiment. They rented a four-bedroom house from the Mission two years ago. After each grabbing a room, they filled the other two rooms with eight bunk beds, listing their Treat St. Clubhouse on Airbnb for $55 a night per bed.

“We rent at cost to provide affordable accommodation for locals and visitors alike,” said Memon, who met his girlfriend Marion, from France, when she stayed there last year. “We made lifelong friendships.” It was so successful that last year they rented another apartment to turn into a hostel, calling it the Sunnyside Travel House. “It has a healthier, more relaxing vibe; Treat St. is rowdier and more lawless,” he said.

Philipp Pechmann packs his bags before leaving his $55-a-night bunk at the Treat St. Clubhouse.

At Sunnyside, located in Japantown near Alamo Square, they installed two resident managers and put 10 bunk beds in the other two bedrooms.

“In the summer, we’re really full,” said Hana Nobel, one of two managers at Sunnyside who get their own rooms in exchange for cleaning, laundry, storing supplies, hosting guests and hosting guests. request management. She doesn’t get paid, but most weeks she feels like it’s a fair trade. “It’s mostly tourists; people here for conferences; some visiting friends,” she said.

Carley Rutledger (right) and Jiran Dowlati work on their laptops in the common area of ​​the Treat St. Clubhouse, which sleeps eight like a hostel.

Sunnyside and Treat St. Clubhouse are among dozens of informal Airbnb hostels that cram visitors into homes and apartments at rates ranging from $50 to $80 a night per bed. The site’s global reach and help with planning and payment processing make running these hostels simple.

Home-based hostels appear to be on the rise this year, with 27 Airbnb hosts offering two or more shared rooms, for a total of 220 listings. Last year, 13 hosts listed 107 shared rooms; in 2014, there were 58 shared rooms in hostels. (These numbers exclude hosts offering a single space in a shared room.)

Conversely, the number of hosts with multiple homes has dropped significantly, after Airbnb said it would drop those who appeared to be illegal operators.

If hostel-style rentals have a permanent resident and register with the city, they could be legal under the short-term rental law, said Kevin Guy, director of the Office of Short-Term Rentals. However, home hostels could still violate planning, zoning and building code rules for density and safety, agreed Guy and San Francisco zoning administrator Scott Sanchez.

“There has been an increase in complaints over the past few years about these hostels on Airbnb,” Sanchez said, noting 49 complaints since October 2014, 15 of which are still active. “We’ve had instances where they’ve changed the house rules to be more compliant.”

Basically, packing lots of people is OK if they’re cooperative housemates who have a say in running the household, less so if it’s a top-down structure. If more than five unrelated people share accommodation, inspectors check whether they monitor membership and membership, whether they buy and prepare food collectively and whether they determine their own rules and organisations, he said. declared.

The Treat St. Clubhouse is located in a four-bedroom apartment in this Mission District building.

Some of the informal hostels appear to be large corporations.

HackerHomes consists of a dozen hostels for tech workers in apartments or houses from San Francisco to San Jose. The San Francisco Tenants Union, San Francisco Housing Committee and a neighbor are suing the chain and its landlords.

Jennifer Fieber, political campaign director for the Tenants’ Union, said residents of the hostel, who pay $50 or more a night, are being exploited. “No one should pay so much money to not have privacy and live in these conditions,” she said. She is even friendly to the owners. “In this situation (the owners of HackerHomes) are inflating landlord rents, renting at a price and then making a profit,” she said.

Political campaign manager Jennifer Fieber of the San Francisco Tenants’ Union, which is suing the operators of one of the apartments in the left-wing building for charging $1,000 to $1,800 a month for bunk beds.

Tenants’ Union lawyer Mark Hooshmand said that while hostels offer cheaper options for many people, “they are still taking long-term accommodation off the market (and are) band-aids that violate laws and operate under the radar”.

For Sunnyside and Treat St. Clubhouse, both owners are aware of hostel rentals, Memon said, and charge a slight premium due to visitor numbers. Hostels cover all electricity and water costs, which are considerable. “We are confident that we are above the board and above the legality,” Memon said, saying they had registered with the city’s short-term rental office. However, no properties appear on the city’s vacation rental registry, which the partners could not explain.

Some quick math shows that Sunnyside would bring in $200,000 per year with full occupancy, or more than $16,000 per month, or triple what it could bring in as a regular rental, even in the overheated San Francisco market. Treat St. would generate $160,000 per year. But Memon, who said he didn’t know the occupancy rate, said he and Graham don’t take advantage of hostels other than to cover their living expenses – in fact, they can’t legally earn more than their rent, since the units are rented. controlled.

“Every month that we finish, we reinvest,” he said. “We are going to stock the fridge a little better. For the past few months, we had regular kombucha at Sunnyside. Treat is more of a party house, so we regularly stock up on booze, depending on what we’re up to.

Linda G. Ibarra