Supes vote to burst Airbnb bubble

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted in favor of an ordinance Tuesday that will create a regulatory system for short-term rentals in The City.

Board of Supervisors President David Chiu introduced the ordinance, which he said, aims to fairly address issues surrounding the increase in short-term rentals bolstered by the creation of online companies such as Airbnb and Vacation Rentals By Owner, also known as VRBO.

Dozens of homesharing advocates gathered at Civic Center Plaza outside City Hall prior to the Board’s meeting to express their desire to make homesharing services legal yet profitable in The City.

The group of homesharing advocates held signs expressing sentiments such as “I Love Sharing” and “Sharing is Caring,” and many championed “hosted homes,” in which the host remains at the residence for the duration of the guests’ stay.

Many of the proponents of homesharing were individuals who say they host a variety of guests from around the world and the extra income helps them pay their bills, subsidizes their retirement or allows them to stay in The City.

Those at the rally said that while they do not want strict city regulations, they do want it to be legal to rent out rooms in their homes.

Due to a pushback from groups such as advocates of affordable housing and tenants rights, as well as the hotel and tourist industry among others, Chiu proposed legislation to address what he said is the “explosion” of short-term rentals in San Francisco.

The ordinance, recommended by the Board’s Land Use and Economic Development Committee, allows permanent residents to lease out their homes on a short-term basis. But the ordinance also stipulates circumstances in which it remains illegal.

With the adoption of the ordinance, a 90-day cap will be placed on short-term rentals per year, not counting those stays where the resident is home during the guests’ visit.

The ordinance also requires hosts to register with The City and disclose the number of days per year they rent their property on a short-term basis. Any host who is found in violation of the new ordinance will be fined $1,000 per day with that fine increasing for future offenses.

Chiu said today’s passage shows that that:

“… we can protect our city’s housing units from being converted to hotels, while also allowing short-term rentals on a limited basis to help residents afford to stay in their homes.”

Peter Kwan is the founder of the Home Sharers of San Francisco, a nonprofit community organization whose members “participate in the sharing economy movement by opening our homes to domestic and international visitors,” according to its website.

Kwan said going through the legislative process will allow stakeholders to have more input on how the future of homesharing is crafted. Supervisor Scott Weiner, who voted in favor of the ordinance, said that while he supports short-term rentals, he expressed concern that “homesharing is happening in the shadows.”

The ordinance passed today brings the act of homesharing into the sunlight, he said. Nancy Niederhauser, a Potrero Hill resident who bought her home 42 years ago, said she greatly enjoys being a host and it allows her to live in San Francisco.

Niederhauser said she also supports insurance requirements for hosts, saying hosts have a “vested interest in safety.”

Other homesharers highlighted the positive impact, apart from personal financial gain. They said “hosted homes” help bring business to areas throughout The City and allow visitors to see more than Pier 39. They said it brings travelers to more off-the-beaten-path areas, such as the Bayview District and Excelsior neighborhood.

Supervisor London Breed, who voted in favor of the ordinance, said today that the Airbnb phenomenon is one more instance in San Francisco in which private industry is moving faster than government. She said that as legislators, she and her fellow supervisors have a responsibility to ensure the safety of both hosts and guests.

Supervisor David Campos, who voted no, urged his fellow supervisors to address the need for companies such as Airbnb, which facilitate short-term rentals, to pay taxes. He said Airbnb is a $10 billion company and he claims that Airbnb owes The City about $25 million in back taxes since 2012.

Supervisor Eric Mar, who also voted no, said he hopes that the legalization of short-term rentals won’t lead to the “hotelizing” of The City’s housing stock.

The Board of Supervisors voted 7-4 in favor of the ordinance. A second vote on the ordinance is scheduled for the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 21.

Once the Board affirms its initial vote, the legislation will go to San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee for his signature.