Short-term rental boom spurs debate

Local residents express concerns over popular hostels and hackerspaces, demand regulations

Palo Alto has seen an increasing trend of single family homes converted into hostels — homes which take in as many as 16 people at a time.This trend of short term rentals has upset residents.

Short-term rental sites such as Vacation Rental by Owner (VRBO) and Airbnb have created a new market for Palo Alto residents looking to profit by way of renting out their houses for a few days at a time. In response, community members have voiced concerns regarding the overpopulation of these rented homes.

While short-term rentals have been increasing in popularity around the United States, Silicon Valley’s short-term rental market is unique. Lax laws and a booming technological industry have resulted in the transformation of many single family homes into such rental hackerspaces (community oriented working spaces, usually for coders) and hostels. The durations of these rentals have been reported to be anywhere from a few days to months.

It’s very expensive … to stay here. I couldn’t believe the prices here, most people have to share or go further away.

— Oscar Rueda

While neighboring residents have complained about these overcrowded homes, reporting both noise complaints and health concerns, many renters of these houses claim that this type of housing is one of the only ways that they can afford to live in Palo Alto. The increase in long-term rental rates has many Palo Alto residents expressing their concerns regarding this newly appearing common occurrence. Oscar Rueda, a scientist visiting Stanford University for two months from Cambridge University expressed his concern regarding rental prices in Palo alto.

“It’s very expensive, very expensive to stay here,” Rueda said. “I couldn’t believe the prices here, most people have to share or go further away.”

Still however, members of the community have asked for stricter regulations. This being said, Palo Alto Planning and Community Environment Department Director Hillary Gitelman recently wrote in an email to Palo Alto Online that the City of Palo Alto is unable to regulate the number of people who rent and reside in a home.

“City code also does not limit the number of bedrooms or bathrooms that can be constructed within a residence; it regulates the overall size and use as a residence, rather than as a hotel,” Gitelman wrote.

Under the current legislation, little can be done to prevent the establishment of these hostels and hacker spaces. The popularity of short-term rental spaces brings to light concerns regarding residential overpricing in Palo Alto and the increasing financial difficulties for the city’s renting population. With one bedroom apartments in Palo Alto being rented out for an average price of $2589 per month, and two bedroom apartments for an average price of $3343 per month, renting spaces has become nearly impossible, financially, for many aspiring Silicon Valley workers.