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Camper van rents to desperate apartment seekers for $28/day

Former Uber driver says van plan can’t keep up with demand anymore

A white camper van. Bob Allen

Rents are up across the Bay Area in 2017, but this year did still see one local rental bargain to be had, for better or worse.

When Noe Valley resident Bob Allen first began renting his camper van to apartment seekers in early 2016 the price was $45/night, but just after Curbed SF first reported the potentially depressing offer in March of that year Allen cut prices and these days the deal goes as low as $28/night.

Allen launched a site, Go-Tel, and bought additional vans, garnering national media attention from the likes of TIME magazine by summer. These days he’s still advertising on Craigslist promising, “Our van will get you through tough times,” but says it’s harder to keep up with demand now.

“I’m almost 70 and I’m too tired to do [a larger operation] anymore,” Allen told Curbed SF (speaking on the phone in his van at the time), saying he’s now working with just one vehicle again.

The enterprise started with a fluke in 2016 when Allen picked up a Google employee as an Uber fare. “He asked if he could rent my van for the weekend,” says Allen. “Then later he asked would I rent it for a month. I said where are you going to go for a month and he said nowhere, I’m just trying to find an apartment.”

Allen’s first van tenant eventually bought his own van, which is apparently easier to come by on a Google salary than an apartment is. But the idea had legs—or wheels in this case—and others showed interest.

A child of the Summer of Love, Allen moved to San Francisco from New Mexico in the ‘60s because, “I heard you could go to college for free and there were a lot of girls and a lot of marijuana.” Those were simpler times, perhaps, and these days he considers the van rentals a valuable stopgap in troubled times.

“There’s definitely a need for it with how crazy the rental market is,” he says.

Despite slowing down, Go-Tel remains open for business, and the Craigslist ad promises, “Tell us the area you would like to live in and we will do the research to make that happen for you.”

Because be it ever so humble, there’s still no place like home. For the time being.