Skift Take

The City of Portland, Oregon recently proposed similar amendments to its short-term rental law but was slow to impose any penalties. Since Airbnb is headquartered in San Francisco you can only imagine how much bloodier this battle has become.

The saga of laws passed to regulate Airbnb and other short-term rental sites continues in San Francisco as the company goes head-to-head with its hometown that wants to see amendments to its law at the ballot box in November.

Signed into law last fall and effective February 1, 2015, the short-term rental law, which some call the Airbnb Law, in San Francisco requires home-sharing site hosts to register with the city and for the sites to regularly report the addresses, room nights and revenue generated by residences rented out through platforms such as Airbnb, HomeAway and others.

The law also requires the platforms to collect and remit any applicable transient occupancy tax requested by the city and rentals are capped at 90 days per year per unit. According to the city, so far only 170 of the more than 3,000 home-share hosts in San Francisco have registered.

David Campos, a member of the San Francisco board of supervisors, told Skift that the law is not enforceable as it stands and that Airbnb agreed with the version of the law that was passed last year.

“The city has made it clear that they don’t have the tools to enforce this law,” said Campos. “We were and are looking at other laws around the country now passed to regulate home-sharing. The law that was drafted in San Francisco was really drafted by Airbnb and the irony is that Airbnb refuses to comply with the law that it wrote. It’s using it’s very sizable political muscle in San Francisco.”

The Amendments

Campos said this “political muscle” takes the form of large sums spent against local leaders backing proposed amendments to the law, such as Campos’ amendment that would:

  • Require booking data be provided by Airbnb on a quarterly basis regarding the number of days units that are being rented;
  • Place a 60-day hard cap on the number of days the unit can be rented each year;
  • Impose penalties against any units not registered by Airbnb and other platforms, $1000 per day or more per unit for each day the unit isn’t registered, and
  • Give neighbors the backing and support to take the platforms to court and impose civil penalties against any violations.

San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee introduced his own amendment, which calls for capping all short-term rentals at 120 days per year and creating and funding a new city office to register, investigate and enforce short-term rental laws.

“Airbnb investors spent hundreds of thousands of dollars against me in my recent campaign” for the state assembly, said Campos. “New York has at least been willing to do what San Francisco has refused to do up to this point, which is requiring hosts to provide data. But because Airbnb has political power in this city, they targeted all leaders like myself who questioned them. People here are afraid of them. But people realize that something has to be done and we’ll see what happens.”

“I think that [Airbnb] has decided that if it can’t get its way on its own turf that they won’t be able to win anywhere else and that’s why they’ve drawn a line in the sand in San Francisco.”

Campos said the newly formed ShareBetter Coalition in the city is working to put the proposed amendments on the ballot in November. The coalition includes tenants, housing rights advocates, landlords and labor groups who have until June to collect enough signatures to get the amendments on the ballot this fall.

Airbnb’s Side

Campos said he visited Airbnb at its San Francisco offices last week and that it was “a nice and cordial conversation but they made it clear they’re not budging.”

Airbnb set up a site aimed at opposing state legislation that “would make it more difficult for Californians to share their homes and pay the bills.”

An Airbnb spokesperson told Skift: “Instead of trojan horse proposals designed to effectively ban home-sharing, lawmakers should focus on making it easier for San Franciscans to share their homes and follow the rules.​”

Airbnb said last year its business contributed nearly $469 million to the San Francisco economy and that the average San Francisco Airbnb host earns $13,000 per year from using the site. The company also claims 72% of Airbnb properties are outside of traditional hotel districts in neighborhoods that haven’t benefitted from tourism in the past.

Campos said the city isn’t scared this legislation would discourage other home-share platforms from wanting to do business in San Francisco.

“We’re open to anyone who wants to meet with us. We’ve met with HomeAway and had some conversations about this law,” said Campos. “But Airbnb has been the focus because they wrote the law and they’re calling the shots. My sense with HomeAway is that they just want to have a seat at the table. They feel their concerns weren’t taken into account at all with how the law was drafted.”

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March 29, 2023
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Tags: airbnb, san francisco

Photo credit: Airbnb is fighting its hometown of San Francisco on amendments to a new law requiring tax collection on short-term rentals. The proposed amendments would reduce the number of days a unit can be rented each year. Airbnb

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