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The most bizarre, outrageous Airbnb feud story you’ll ever read

February 14, 2016

msn – excerpt

It’s a tale so Byzantine as to defy belief, a neighbors’ dispute run terribly amok, replete with allegations of fraud, false identity, extortion, harassment and squatting — all enabled by the anonymity of arranging a rental via Airbnb.

A Telegraph Hill resident who was squabbling with his building co-owners allegedly duped them into renting him their unit by using a false identity on Airbnb, according to a complaint filed in San Francisco Superior Court. Then, after two months in the apartment, he claimed he qualified for tenants’ rights and said he planned to stay indefinitely…

During the rental in April and May, Huang and Payne never met Tako; all their in-person interactions were with one of his associates. When the two months were almost up, to their “shock and horror,” an attorney informed them that Hingorani was their tenant and that he and his associates were asserting the right to convert their stay into an ongoing month-to-month tenancy…

Why didn’t he tell his fellow TIC owners that he had rented their unit via Airbnb? He doesn’t have a clear answer and declined to respond to any questions about Jim Tako. And why wouldn’t he leave? Even after his unit was rehabbed, it’s too small for three people, he said. And he believes in his legal rights. Payne and Huang “would like to change the rent ordinance to have 60-day rentals and be able to kick people out; that’s just not what the law is,” he said…

The case exposes potential pitfalls of the so-called sharing economy, where websites facilitate interactions between strangers. Airbnb guests are supposed to be vetted through reviews from other users. Some apply for “verified ID” by scanning in documents such as photo IDs and linking to social media profiles. The profile of “Jim Tako,” which featured a photograph of actor Don Johnson, did not have any reviews, Payne said, although underneath his Airbnb messages are the words “5 Verifications; 1 Review.” Higorani later testified that he paid the Airbnb rent with his credit card, meaning Airbnb failed to flag that “Jim Tako” did not have a credit card under his name.

“Unfortunate situations like this are rare and we are always working to improve,” Airbnb said in a statement. “We provide tools so that our hosts can review and research their guests before they accept a reservation. You can read a person’s profile, look for their reviews.”

The situation also reveals a Catch-22 created by San Francisco’s new laws regulating short-term rentals. Entire-home rentals are limited to 90 days a year and must be occupied by a permanent resident. Huang switched to rentals of 30 days or more since those are legal. That’s a decision that other local landlords have also made. But by requiring longer stays, landlords run the risk of the temporary visitors gaining permanent renters’ rights.

And finally, the conflict lays bare a downside of tenancies in common, a popular real estate approach in San Francisco in which strangers join forces to buy a multi-unit building with each occupying a unit but sharing finances and upkeep.

A group of five people purchased the run-down 1908 six-unit Edwardian building as a TIC in 2012. Payne bought two units; Huang bought one. Hingorani —whom they did not know — bought a top-floor studio. The other two owners were already living there as renters.

Almost immediately Payne and Huang clashed with Hingorani over finances and building repairs. They say that resulted in his extreme hostility toward them. But Hingorani says he does not bear them ill will, although he characterized them as bullies who are difficult to do business with.

Payne and Huang proceeded to rent two of their units via Airbnb and Flipkey to travelers (the third was so dilapidated that it was uninhabitable). That fueled another conflict with Hingorani, who said the stream of visitors generated noise, consumed parking and threatened security, and charged that they were neglecting the units’ upkeep. Hingorani complained to the city about the illegal short-term rentals. Payne and Huang then switched to rentals of 30 days or more.

Last year they arranged a two-month Airbnb rental starting April 1 to a man identifying himself as Jim Tako, a traveling correspondent for a Pittsburgh TV station who said he would share it with colleagues…

Payne says they didn’t feel obligated to vet the tenants since they were relying on Airbnb as a middleman. “We put a lot of trust in Airbnb,” he said…

After a Rent Board hearing, an administrative law judge ruled that Hingorani, Davis and Hingorani’s mother were entitled to tenants’ protections under San Francisco’s rent ordinance based on having occupied the unit for more than 32 continuous days. The decision sidestepped the issue of how the three originally took possession of the unit, although it said that Hingorani’s testimony about Jim Tako “was not credible.”…(more)


He chooses his words carefully in discussing the current imbroglio.

“It was inappropriate how (Hingorani) got in that unit,” he said. “But I think there’s enough wrong on both sides that the only ones who are going to benefit from this are the lawyers. It’s a pox on both their houses.”

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