This fall, city staff reported there were about 850 short-term rental listings in Mountain View spread across platforms including Airbnb, VRBO and Booking.com. For years, these services have been tacitly allowed to proliferate with no oversight or tax burden as city officials waited to adopt formal regulations. As the cottage industry grew, Mountain View was essentially forgoing about $1 million annually by not collecting any taxes.
After years of consideration, city officials in 2018 passed a short-term rental ordinance meant to rein in hosts who were subverting the city's housing supply by turning homes into de facto hotels. Effective in September, short-term rental hosts are supposed to register with the city, obtain business licenses and pay a 10% fee on bookings.
Following a public records request by the Voice, city officials last week provided initial data showing that not many hosts are registering with the city. The city's listings show a total of 61 units, all of which are owned by small operators running one or two rentals.
In recent years, certain types of short-term rental operations have riled up neighborhoods in Mountain View, spurring complaints of noise, garbage and loss of parking. Some neighbors have criticized hosts who convert residences into cheap "hacker house" dormitories for dozens of tech workers. Other landlords have converted swaths of older apartments into Airbnb rentals to circumvent the city's rent control rules. There is no sign that any of these large-scale hosts have signed up with the city, according to the city's data.
City officials familiar with the short-term rental program could not be immediately reached for comment. Previously, the city manager's office reported that staff would focus on educating hosts rather than enforcement at this early stage.
Additionally, hosts are supposed to comply with rules to ensure they aren't taking affordable housing off the market in order to turn an easy buck. Unoccupied housing can be rented out through Airbnb and other services for no more than 60 days per year under the city rules. Under the city's ordinance, any hosts who fail to abide by the regulations will be given a warning, and then fines of $500 or more could be imposed.
Other cities have also experienced tremendous difficulty getting Airbnb hosts to comply with regulations. In San Francisco, fewer than 1 in 4 Airbnb hosts signed up and paid mandatory fees after the city launched a similar registry system in 2015. Significant compliance came about only after San Francisco had issued more than $1 million in fines and legally forced Airbnb and other short-term rental companies to delist hosts who weren't following the city's rules.
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