Author: Katy M. Young
In HBO’s show Silicon Valley, the story takes place in one character’s home which he opens up to tech entrepreneurs who need a place to live and work in exchange for equity in their companies, called Hacker Hostel. In the episode titled “Two in a Box,” the characters struggle with landlord/tenant issues that are novel in the age of Airbnb. You can read a synopsis of the plot of the episode here.
Ad Astra had a hand in both of the landlord/tenant issues featured in this episode.
“With Pied Piper on its feet, Jared announces he’s moving out of Noah’s guest house and back into his condo, which he’s been renting out on Airbnb. When Jared arrives at his condo he finds his tenant, Ludwig, is still there, claiming he can’t afford to live in the area because people like Jared have raised the cost of living. Ludwig refuses to leave, so Jared begins the long, expensive process of eviction.”
This part of the episode has many similarities to Huang v. Hingorani, Ad Astra Partner Wendy Hillger’s AirBnB-neighbors dispute case which was written up in the San Francisco Chronicle here.
Essentially, the Jared character on Silicon Valley learns the tough truth as the landlord in our case: You get a long, expensive eviction fight. If you rent your property to one who pays to be there for more than 32 days, even if the rental agreement came through AirBnB, the SF Rent Board has held that the renter acquires traditional tenancy rights. Therefore, to remove a short-term vacation renter who pays to stay more than 32 days yet refuses to leave and keeps paying rent, the landlord’s only course of action is an eviction.
Here is the second issue in the episode:
“Erlich shows the Hacker Hostel to a new tenant, and later tries to kick out Jian-Yang so that a new incubee can move into his old room. Jian-Yang doesn’t take the news well and starts freaking out. Later, after Erlich unwittingly reveals why Jared is moving back into the garage, Jian-Yang decides to use California’s tenant laws to his own advantage and also refuses to move out.”
In 2015, Ad Astra represented one of the defendants in the lawsuit Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco v. HackerHome. HackerHome is allegedly a company that rents living space to tech entrepreneurs via the AirBnB platform in violation of San Francisco’s short-term rental law. In Silicon Valley, the storyline begins in Erlich Bachman’s “Hacker Hostel,” which mirrors the alleged HackerHome activities in both name and function. While living and working in the Hacker Hostel, the main character Richard develops an algorithm meant to help musicians avoid copyright troubles but ends up creating the world’s most powerful file compression technology and becomes the darling of Silicon Valley investors after winning the Tech Crunch competition. The character who owns the Hacker Hostel wants to remove one of the tenants, Jian-Yang, whose company is underperforming so that he can make room for more people involved with Richard’s more successful business, but upon listening to Jared’s problem with his Airbnb renter, Jian-Yang realizes that he’s lived in the Hacker Hostel long enough to acquire tenant’s rights like Jared’s tenant and announces that Hacker Hostel will have to evict him because he’s not leaving.
Now Erlich Bachman and Jared each experience the same landlord/tenant problems that Ad Astra’s clients have had to tackle, although thus far, no one has sued Erlich Bachman for his Hacker Hostel activities.
I was particularly thrilled by this episode of Silicon Valley because usually it relates to my husband’s work in big data cloud computing and the show’s creator goes out of his way to make the show full of inside jokes relevant to tech workers in the real Silicon Valley. This time, our cases featured prominently in the story line and I got to be on the inside of the inside jokes!