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No Meth Pipe Left Behind: Hotel Unions Asleep at the Wheel?

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The Fairmont Hotel in happier times. Plans to demolish the tower- and replace it with a condominium- was recently stopped by the Hotel Local 2.

The global attention a woman named EJ got last week when her San Francisco apartment was ransacked by drug users, allegedly clients of the short-term rental site Airbnb has put their business in the spotlight, but the problem's bigger than forgetting your meth pipe. In a situation analogous to prostitution on Craigslist, Airbnb is only one player in a business that's grown exponentially here in the past year- providing an online platform for people to rent privately-owned apartments as an alternative to hotels, motels and B&Bs. And like prostitutes, dealing directly with the public- or someone you know only as an email address- has its hazards. Hotels have been putting up with housekeeping nightmares since the Bethlehem Hyatt lost Mary and Joseph's reservation.

Short-term rentals have been popular in Europe for decades, and it could be argued that their new-found popularity here with Europeans has been a boon rather than a problem. A sampling of what's available in the Haight shows most of these are just as basic as their European counterparts. And cheap, especially if you're spending Euros.

Short-term vacation rentals are illegal in San Francisco for good reasons- reducing the number of rent-controlled units, competing directly with hotels for the lucrative tourist business, cutting out restaurants who'd otherwise be serving meals tourists can make on their own, and unless the owners are remitting a 14% lodging tax to the city, cheating the city out of revenue. The relevant city agencies appear to be AWOL on this one while landlords expand their short-term portfolios, although it seems like a problem a few interns armed with laptops could assess. Also MIA is the hotel union, with both members among the most fragile stakeholders in the health of the hotel industry and the political will to stop condo projects. Got a short-term rental or work in a hotel? We'd love to hear from you in the comments.
· Airbnb, Rivals May Face Challenges Over Rentals [SF Gate]
· The Haight [Airbnb]
· San Francisco Vacation Rentals on the Rise [Curbed SF]
· Conversion of Apartments to Rentals for Tourists Is Surging [Bay Citizen/NY Times]
· One Day Longer [Local 2]
· Union Nixes Hotel's Hope for Condos [Curbed SF]