March 4, 2020
Short-term rentals, or STRs, allow people to rent out portions of their property for short periods of time (30 days in the City of Mountain View). In most cases, this means renting out individual rooms, such as the kitchen or living room, to different individuals.
According to Rosa Mancilla, who works with local nonprofits on the issue, this is a usual scenario: A family rents out a two-bedroom apartment for $3,000 a month. However, because this family cannot afford their own rent, they rent out one bedroom to another family for $1000 and their living room to a third family for $600 a month.
More extreme examples exist too. According to Myers, one man took to renting a bathtub to sleep in for $500 a month. In 2015, Mountain View resident John Potter used Airbnb to rent out a tent in his backyard. The cost was $46 a night, about $900 a month.
Because these conditions are not regulated in the same ways that typical apartments are, there are sometimes safety issues, such as fire hazards. Two of the families Mancilla has worked with experienced fires as a result of too many people plugging devices into electrical outlets. In one instance, the whole apartment was burned.
Due to the wording of some of the lease agreements for renters, there are sometimes conflicts with landowners. Landlords will threaten and push tenants out, forcing many to hide what they are doing.
Myers says most tenant protection laws are based on whether people are on the lease. This means that people giving money under the table, like in these STRs, don’t receive protections.
“It’s reality, but it’s invisible,” Yoshida said.
While some STRs, like the aforementioned examples, operate within gray areas of the law, there are currently regulations in place to accommodate these sorts of living conditions. According to Mountain View Communication Coordinator Shonda Ranson, STRs are legal so long as they don’t receive complaints and have the proper registration and permits. Mountain View has hired a company called Host Compliance to monitor these complaints and violations.
Ranson said she is not aware of any particular incidents involving safety and legal issues, including fires. Host Compliance did not respond to a request for comment.