Tag Archives: vacation rental

San Francisco Sues Airbnb Users For $5.5M


The city of San Francisco is seeking $5.5 million from two Airbnb owners who illegally rented out 14 apartments for nearly one year. They made more than $700,000 from the illegal rentals.

Darren and Valerie Lee own 45 apartments in 17 buildings across the city. San Francisco law restricts building owners to one short-term rental per building — and that apartment must be the owner’s home. According to the city’s lawyer, 14 of the Lees’ apartments were short-term rentals, rented under the names of friends and associates who pretended to be genuine tenants.

During inspection, the couple went through elaborate motions to make it appear like people actually lived there. But it was evident that it was a fraud.

“Every apartment had the same staging: the same Costco food items scattered about, the same arrangement of dirty breakfast dishes in every kitchen sink, same personal products in each bathroom, same damp towels artfully draped over doors as though someone had recently showered, the same collection of shoes and clothes in closets, and same houseplants in each apartment,” city lawyers wrote in the court filing.

The motion to the court seeks a penalty of $750 for every day that each apartment was available and $1,500 for every day that an apartment was rented. The penalty comes out to a grand total of $5.5 million. (Under state law, the penalty could have been as high as $30 million.)

San Francisco first sued the Lees in 2014 when they evicted tenants to turn their building into a collection of rentals to list on Airbnb. A year later, they settled for $276,000 and a promise to abide by short-term rental law.

The couple’s “greed, fraud and deceit was breathtaking,” city attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement.

The case will be heard in court on June 12.

Airbnb did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Source: by Cailey Rizzo | Travel And Leisure

Can Short Term Rental Income Hurt Your Mortgage Refinance Application?

One of the most significant financial trends to sweep the country is more of a hit with homeowners than refinance mortgage lenders.

Logically, it sure seems as though a loan application which shows extra income through short-term room rentals would be a winner, something that would greatly please mortgage lenders.

The catch is that it’s not a sure thing, and in some cases, room rentals could actually be a negative.

New Trend Creates Uncertainty

Across the country, a number of electronic platforms now allow those with extra space to provide short-term housing.

National services such as Airbnb, Flipkey, HomeAway and VRBO are at the heart of this new business, one which takes an idle asset – that unused mother-in-law suite or extra bedroom – and puts it to use.

The result is that many homeowners are now getting cash for their quarters, money that can help with monthly bills and even mortgage payments.

At first, short-term home rentals seem like a win-win business proposition: the homeowner earns income while the traveler gets space for a few days, space that might be a lot cheaper than standard-issue hotel rooms.

The catch is that although the cash earned from short-term rentals is real, it may not automatically count on a mortgage application.

Home Rentals And Your Refinance Mortgage

For a very long time, there has been a business which offers short-term rentals — the hotel industry. Like most industries, it has not been shy about seeking legal protections for its products and services.

Check the local rules for virtually all jurisdictions, and you will find laws on the books which prohibit unlicensed short-term rentals or leases of fewer than 30 days.

These laws are largely unenforced, but that is changing. According to the New York Post, on October 21, 2016, New York Governor Cuomo signed a bill that would impose fines of up to $7,500 against hosts who posted short-term rentals. A California couple who had already paid $2,081 for their room found themselves with nowhere to stay when another resident reported their host to the authorities.

Rental Income: Is It Reported?

For lenders, the new surge in short-term rentals raises a number of issues. The money is nice, and congratulations on that, but whether such funds can be counted in a refinance home loan application is uncertain. Here’s why:

First, the lender will want to see that the rental income has been reported on tax returns. If income is not reported, it doesn’t usually count.

Note that if you report short-term rental income, it may not be taxable, depending on how many nights the property was rented. See a tax professional for details.

Is It Legal?

Second, if the income is reported, was it legally obtained? Here we get back to those sticky local rules that ban short-term rentals.

Lenders like to see income that’s ongoing, because mortgages tend to be lengthy obligations lasting 15 or 30 years.

If cash is coming from unlicensed room rentals, there is the possibility that the money might be cut off at any moment by an irate neighbor who reports the matter to local authorities.

Is It Your Primary Residence?

Third, is the property a residence? Mortgage lenders generally are in the business of financing homes with one-to-four units, and the best refinance rates go to those being used as primary residences.

New York state found that six percent of the units it studied captured almost 40 percent of the private short-term rental income.

In other words, some properties did a lot of short term rentals, a volume which will make lenders wonder whether the property is a comfy residence or an unlicensed hotel.

It’s not just lenders who will have such questions. The property will have to be appraised and that’s where problems are likely to arise.

Home, Sweet Boarding House?

Francois (Frank) K. Gregoire, an appraiser based in St. Petersburg and a nationally-recognized valuation authority, notes that “a room rental situation, depending on the number of rooms, may shift the use of the property from single or multifamily to a business use, such as a hotel or rooming house.

“If there are more than four units, the property is outside the one to four units certified residential appraisers are permitted to appraise, and outside the one to four unit limitation for loan purchase by Fannie and Freddie.”

The Future Of Short-Term Rentals

While the current situation is muddled and puzzled, there’s a very great likelihood that short-term home rentals will be increasingly legitimatized.

In the same way that Uber has disrupted the traditional cab industry, the odds are that the same thing will happen with short-term rentals. The reason is that the private rental rules now on the books were passed when no one cared and are largely unenforced.

Now, the landscape has changed. A very large number of homeowners want to be in the short-term rental business, or are at least disinclined to report their neighbors.

The police surely don’t want to break into homes in search of paying guests, and state and local lawmakers really want homeowner votes.

Be Careful Out There

For the moment, homeowners with an interest in earning a few extra dollars from short-term home rentals should get advice and counsel from a local real estate attorney before signing up guests.

In addition, speak with your insurance broker to assure that you have adequate coverage. Some policies allow short-term rentals, some do not, and there are differing definitions regarding what is or is not an allowable short-term rental.

By Peter Miller | The Mortgage Reports

How To Avoid Fake Vacation Rentals

The home-sharing economy is heating up. Inevitably, more and more of us have been getting fleeced on fake vacation rentals.

Vacation planning often begins with excitement, optimism and nowadays the Internet. The online search leads far into a world of glossy photos, descriptive blurbs and, of course, countless promises of customer satisfaction. Even if you’re not inclined to rent a stranger’s house, you may find that for the most popular destinations, traditional hotels are booked or inadequate. So renting a vacation home is a natural alternative. According to the Vacation Rental Managers Association, 24 percent of leisure travelers report having stayed in a vacation home, up from around 11 percent in 2008.

Before the Internet, the search for a private vacation rental was slow and impractical. It involved trading a lot of phone calls, mailing printed packages and coordinating to solve all kinds of problems. Hoteliers like Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt Hotels built empires based on the wealthy traveler’s desire for luxury and reticence to deal with this process.

Then along came online portals like VRBO, Airbnb and Craigslist. All of a sudden, we’re in the mood to share.

For the most part, the rise of all of this house sharing has been positive. Sophisticated channels like Airbnb and HomeAway try especially hard to protect renters by providing secure payment, user comments and star ratings. But even they are not immune from deceit.

Vacation rental scams come in many different forms. Some Web portals are run by technologists with no connection to the actual real estate. Through smart search engine optimization, these sites attract users, and then sell the lead to the true agent, who offsets the cost with higher rent.

Sure, it looks like the perfect spot for a vacation. But will it be there when you arrive?

The worst rip-offs seduce would-be vacationers with fabulous pictures of fictitious properties. Once the renter is hooked, the phony landlord collects an up-front “security deposit” and runs for the hills. Victims are left unaware they’ve been cheated until weeks later, when they show up at the address with their luggage in hand.

Other variations on the scam are only slightly less fraudulent. Some fakes use the bait-and-switch method by showing unavailable properties, only to divert the renter to another, less desirable spot. Other tricksters may double-book a property, then send whichever vacationer arrives last to a second-rate backup, along with sincere apologies.

You’re too sharp to be ensnared in any of these scams, right? Real estate is my business, so I used to believe the same thing. Then I tried renting a vacation home in Aspen, Colorado, for a summer holiday.

I found many remarkable online listings — only to discover after contacting their presumed representatives that the properties were always booked. After many failed tries and long phone calls I realized I was being conned. I stopped browsing and hired a high-quality local real estate broker to show me real listings.

My experience could have been worse — some friends from Germany were recently snared here in Miami. Fortunately, they insisted on withholding their security deposit from their seemingly delightful contact until after completing a property inspection. Still, she pressured these visitors to wire funds — right up to the time they were driving to the property after their long flight. Having stood their ground, they arrived at the home, which appeared exactly as it did online. Unfortunately, it was occupied by its unsuspecting owner — who had no intention to rent. Of course, my friends never again succeeded in connecting with their agent and had to scramble to locate a hotel room.

Why aren’t authorities cracking down? Perhaps because the dollar figures involved in each case simply aren’t enough to justify an intercontinental examination. The victims, by definition, don’t live anywhere near the jurisdiction of the reported crime. Most often, the crooks don’t either.

So how do you protect yourself? Here’s a list of 10 ways to combat this scam:

  1. Don’t be fooled by photography. In particular, be wary of the nicest-looking, most Photoshopped property photos. Ask the owner for additional photos — an honest lessor will always have them. Or ask your agent to use technology like FaceTime or Skype to show you the property live. At the very least, use Google GOOG -0.11% Earth and Google’s Street View feature to confirm that the property you’re renting actually exists at the address advertised. You can also use those Google tools to get an unvarnished look at the property’s exterior.
  2. Be careful of the cheapest properties. If prices seem too good to be true, they probably are. If you don’t have a feel for what a reasonable price is in an area, get one. Scammers often go after people who aren’t that savvy. And drive a hard bargain — not just to get a better deal, but also to detect odd behavior from the other party.
  3. Never pay with cash. The preferred methods of payment among criminals are cash and cash-transfer services like MoneyGram and Western Union WU 0%. Use a credit card instead — Visa, MasterCard and American Express will all allow you to recover money you lose to fraud. Reputable sites like Airbnb will hold your security funds in escrow. They play middleman, making sure you’ve put the funds in place before you get keys. (Some portals offer insurance against fraud — but it’s expensive and may not cover much; read the policy closely.)
  4. Use a trusted local agent. Yes, you should expect to pay them. But they can show you bona fide listings or go look at the properties that you’ve seen on the Internet for you. Be sure to check their license.
  5. Confirm legitimacy. For ownership and all documents, confirm that the owner’s name on the lease is the same as the one shown on public property appraiser records. Then have a lawyer review the lease, just like you would a full-year agreement.
  6. Read the comments. The feedback from previous renters that appears on sites like Airbnb and VRBO is invaluable. And in some cases, you’re even allowed to pose questions to other users.
  7. Trust your instincts. If you apply some skepticism to the process, you’re more likely to see red flags. You’re also more likely to catch suspicious behavior. My Germans looked back after their experience and realized their phony realty agent had exhibited all kinds of weird tics. They were so excited about their trip to Miami that they failed to pick up on them.
  8. Take your time. No need to rush. For long vacations, consider going ahead of time to check out the property, or not renting a house for the first week — stay at a hotel for a few nights. It will give you an opportunity to see the property you’re renting in person before turning over your security deposit.
  9. Be a regular. If you rent a home you like, stick with it. You’ll develop a relationship with the owner if you go back to the same place year in, year out — and avoid the risk of being scammed on a new property. If you’re traveling to a new place, try to find a friend who lives there and will give you honest feedback on potential rentals, good neighborhoods, etc.
  10. Beware group think. If you’re vacationing with a half-dozen other people, everybody tends to figure that somebody else is paying attention to the details and making sure the group isn’t getting ripped off. Then, when the amazing six-bedroom place you all rented together is nowhere to be found and your security deposit evaporates, everybody’s pointing fingers.