Hotel Conversion

2017 Update

No matter how good a policy is, at some point, it needs updating. This is certainly true of the Hotel Conversion Ordinance, a policy that THC helped pass in 1980 that has helped to preserve nearly 500 residential hotels in San Francisco. The original legislation did a terrific job preventing SRO demolitions and conversions, yet 35 years after its passing, it required some fine-tuning.

The original law clearly stated that nightly tourist rentals of residential rooms were forbidden, however it left a bit of ambiguity about weekly tourist rentals of residential rooms. The City Attorney understood that the law intended to prevent weekly tourist rents of residential rooms, but the language in the law was so confusing that the City opted not to enforce it. For many decades, this was not a serious issue, but as tourists started renting rooms on the internet, the problem grew enormously. Through our investigations, we discovered that over a dozen hotels were renting out their residential rooms on a weekly basis to tourists. This amounted to a huge loss of residential housing and it went against the intent of the Hotel Conversion Ordinance.

In order to remedy the problem, we worked with Supervisor Aaron Peskin’s office to convene a city-wide coalition of organizations invested in preserving SRO housing. Together with Mission SRO Collaborative, CCDC and others, we worked with the City Attorney to draft an update to the HCO that would increase the cost of violations, clarify the ban of weekly tourist rentals and increase reporting requirements so DBI could better enforce the law. We held a press conference, a lobbying day and contacted the press. When the legislation came up for a vote before the full Board of Supervisors, we won unanimously. After the law passed, we saw a dramatic and abrupt change in residential hotel practices. Seemingly overnight, many of the hotels that had engaged in weekly tourist rentals stopped the practice and brought their units back into the residential housing market. Like the original Hotel Conversion Ordinance, the new updates seem to be a sterling success and a critical tool in preserving San Francisco’s valuable residential housing.

Original Ordinance

Protest in front of Orange Village Hostel, December 2012

San Francisco is home to many single- room residency hotels, which provide housing for the members of the low income community. The City of San Francisco has designated many of them to be 100% residential while some are allowed to rent a small percentage of rooms for short term stays (defined as up to 32 days). The Hotel Conversion Ordinance of 1980 prevents S.R.O. hotels from converting residential hotels to tourist hotels, thereby maintaining a stable housing environment for low income residents. C.C.S.R.O.C. has been involved in holding accountable Hotel Columbia (411 O’Farrell St.) owners and operators who are violating the Hotel Conversation Ordinance. From roughly 2010 to 2012 years, a systematic renovation took place at Columbia Hotel, which was renamed “Orange Village Hostel” in order to target tourists and international students. Many of the students are housed in rooms with illegal bunk beds. C.C.S.R.O. tenant organizers and allies held a protest and rally in front of the hotel in December 2012.

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