How to Turn a Free Parking Space Into a Subsidized Hotel

Image: AirBnB

Want to cash in on prime San Francisco real estate that the city gives away for free? Some enterprising van owner shows how it’s done on AirBnB, where a listing offers a rentable camper parked on the public right of way for the budget-conscious traveler.

That’s right — someone has figured out how to make a killing by charging $92 a night ($480 for a whole week) for the use of this vehicle, while paying absolutely no form of rent, mortgage, property tax, or other cost associated with controlling real estate. It’s just a subsidized mobile hotel.

The city is actually starting to shoo out RVs with overnight parking restrictions on large vehicles, but only because they’re encroaching upon car-owning residents, who are apparently more entitled to store their vehicles in that space than homeless people are.

As we all know, storing private property like, say, a locker on the street is illegal, but that doesn’t apply to automobiles (so long as they don’t double as housing). And most elected officials are perfectly okay with that.

(h/t to Mike Sonn)

  • KillMoto

    Bloody brilliant.
    I wonder if the trivial cost of a local parking sticker plus a registration and an old (possibly inoperative) panel van would be less than a storage unit. I can have like 300 cubic feet of storage, right outside my place, all for a very low fixed cost. To hell with drivers – without a per hour cost for curbside parking, Ima gonna git me some (nearly) free storage!

  • voltairesmistress

    “The city is actually starting to shoo out RVs with overnight parking restrictions
    on large vehicles, but only because they’re encroaching upon car-owning
    residents, who are apparently more entitled to store their vehicles in
    that space than homeless people are.”

    Thank you, Aaron, for calling out this hypocrisy for what it is.

  • Anonymous

    I think one of my neighbors has been doing this for a while. Nice big RV parked in front of his house. Often, it has a power cable running to it from inside.

  • Lenguist

    San Jose Avenue & Day Street. The long blank wall of the back of the Safeway has provided cover for all sorts of unsavory activities over the years. Took us forever to get street sweeping on this block to provide a little turnover.

  • Anonymous

    Hey, I know one Olympic bike racer who was able to pursue her dream by living in an RV in someone’s driveway. Lots of quality people get by living in vehicles on the street. I am not advocating a van-based B&B, though.

  • voltairesmistress

    Same. A friend created an art studio for drawing and painting in a classic refurbished camper. He then parked it on various streets and did his art there, while renting a room elsewhere. He would move the van every couple of days. His only problem was neighbors who would vandalize the van out of resentment. Another acquaintance lives in his van and holds down a job with working class wages — almost only way for him to live and work in San Francisco.at that wage level. Frankly, I think these arrangements are inevitable though rare, since most people want to live in more conventional ways. Like all such arrangements on the margins, they work as long as they are relatively rare and flying beneath the radar. Otherwise, others’ desire for order, rules, convention, and just plain resentment lead to their expulsion.

  • Ryan Brady

    It’d have to move occasionally. You can be cited for leaving a vehicle in the same place for more than 72 hours in San Francisco.

  • mikesonn

    And that happens how often?

  • patrick

    Regarding the 72 hour limit. They have 72 hours from when notice is posted, and it’s very rare that notice is posted the day you contact the DPT, sometimes it takes several days for notice to be posted. If the violator parks on a Thursday or Friday they notice will be posted earliest on Monday meaning they can get away with parking for a week. Of course the notice is only ever posted if somebody notifies DPT. So usually the violators get at least a few days, possibly weeks, before somebody notices that they’ve been breaking the law.

    And of course once notice is posted all the violators do is move across the street. Even though they are required by law to drive a mile before re-parking, the DPT has no way to enforce it.

  • Chris

    “As we all know, storing private property like, say, a locker on the street is illegal, but that doesn’t apply to automobiles (so long as they don’t double as housing).” If the van is being used to house an AirBnB guest, then it’s housing, and as such, wouldn’t it be illegal?

  • Ryan Brady

    yeah, I think this is technically illegal, but it’s still a pretty brilliant idea.

  • It’s OK to keep stuff in a legally parked vehicle but habitation is only spottily/precariously legal in San Francisco. Even when the habitation itself is legal, vehicles that are visibly being used as homes are subject to many forms of pretextual code enforcement harassment. See http://storify.com/MarthaBridegam/why-listing-an-sf-van-on-airbnb-is-a-dumb-idea .

  • FL

    Talk about hypocrisy. Complaining about cars being stored on public property but not complaining when a bike is stored on public property.

  • Can I store my bike on the street? Plenty of examples of people storing cars on the sidewalk.

  • gneiss

    Or what about a sofa? Why is so special about a car but not a sofa? So
    long as I move it every 72 hours, I don’t see how it’s any
    different then a car.

  • Tom

    The 72-hour rules isn’t routinely enforced. Tickets are only issued when someone complains (usually the adjacent homeowner who wants to park there himself) or on street-cleaning day.

    Most San Franciscans know that you have a week i.e. the normal interval between street cleaning, and you’d be very unlucky to get a 3-day ticket otherwise.

    The only 3-day ticket I ever got was when I went on vacation and just left my car on the street. The fine was less than the cost of parking at SFO long-term parking, so it was worth it, assuming no towaway of course.

  • If you’ve never gotten a (formerly pink, now yellow) tag for 72-hour parking, it’s probably because your ride looks pretty good or anyhow unobtrusive. Get yourself a retired U-Haul truck with some graffiti on it or a vintage RV and see how much time passes before a tag appears.

    The 72-hour parking ordinance in San Francisco is enforced much more fiercely on the southeast waterfront and I think also along Golden Gate Park and the western waterfront — gentrifying areas where vehicular residents were formerly tolerated/contained. In those areas particularly, but throughout the city really, the ordinance is enforced selectively against older and visibly inhabited vehicles.

  • voltairesmistress

    A great idea, gneiss! Next Parking Day, let’s take hundreds of sofas, glue them to the asphalt, and park them for 72 hours. If explained to others initially bewildered by this action, it would make more than a surreal point, I think.

  • WoopWoop

    “. . . encroaching upon car-owning residents, who are apparently more entitled
    to store their vehicles in that space than homeless people are.” Since the homeowners pay the TAXES – you GODDAMN Right they are more entitled.

  • Anonymous

    When traffic is totally gridlocked due to a constant stream of cyclists desperately searching for scarce parking, you will have a point.

  • nice article……..

  • HomelessTaxPayer

    They pay taxes for their PROPERTY not the street. For the street we ALL pay.