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On voting day, Prop. F divides San Francisco landlords and tenants

 On voting day, Prop. F divides San Francisco landlords and tenants
A billboard funded by Airbnb in downtown San Francisco urges opposition to Proposition F. (Josh Edelson / AFP/Getty Images)

The polling place nestled between San Francisco's densely populated Nob Hill and Chinatown was quiet on election day. At one point, a doctor with Walgreens – which had set up an immunization booth on site – circled the block asking passersby if they wanted a free flu shot.

"We normally do it on election day because there are lots of people," he said.

But on this particular election day, the polling place had recorded only 50 in-person votes by 1 p.m. An additional 9,000 had come through mail.

As for the immunization booth? The numbers were much lower than that.

Despite the low turnout, those who did vote had strong feelings about Proposition F, the initiative that would toughen regulation of short-term rentals and their related platforms such as Airbnb and VRBO.

Early exit interviews conducted by The Times found a clear divide between tenants and landlords.

"I've been a resident of San Francisco for 28 years, and I'm a tenant, and the woman [who owns the] building next to me took six vacant apartments and put them all on Airbnb," said Nob Hill resident Charles Stegiel, 58, who voted in favor of Proposition F. "I just felt that that's class warfare against me. I'm a tenant. I don't have staggering sums of money. I have a studio apartment. If I lose my studio, where am I going to go?"

Olivia Xue, a retiree who has lived in San Francisco for 15 years, also voted in favor of Proposition F.

"I accept new things," she said, noting that she doesn't have a problem with new platforms and technologies, and is considering using Airbnb for an upcoming trip to China. "But at this time, I think we need to control what's happening."

A Telegraph Hill resident named Nancy, who preferred to go by her first name only, voted "yes" on the proposition, citing the impact that rampant short-term rentals were having on her neighborhood.

"I've seen it in my neighborhood – people have been evicted from them, and they're no longer long-term rentals," she said. "Now they're hotels, and we hear people go up and down and up and down with their roller bags all the time."

Property owners – even those who had never listed their units on short-term rental platforms – felt differently, though.

Russian Hill resident Gary Hermansen, 59, rents his property to long-term tenants, but has in the past listed a unit on VRBO. He voted against Proposition F, calling the idea "hollow."

"Everyone loves using Airbnb, and they'll say they always use Airbnb no matter where they go — as long as it's not in their neighborhood," he said. "I have a problem with that kind of thinking."

He said he understood the concerns people have about apartment buildings increasingly feeling like hotels, but he criticized the proposed regulation for having a shortsighted view.

"There needs to be a more natural capitalist view of it," he said. "If housing costs get so out of control in the city that the average worker can no longer afford to live here, the city services start to fail. When the city services start to fail, the ability or desire for anybody to live here starts to diminish as well. So it becomes a natural balance that should occur."

Restrictions such as Proposition F cause "unnatural" things to happen, Hermansen said.

A Balboa Park resident who went by the name Harry said he has only ever rented his units to families and couples as long-term rentals. Still, he voted against Proposition F because he didn't like the idea of his tenants seeing an opportunity in Prop. F to rent out the unit for short-term stays without the landlord's approval.

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"That said, if I was a tenant, I probably would have voted yes on F," he said. "So it depends on which side of the fence you're on."

Twitter: @traceylien

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