Supes tighten rules on Airbnb hosts

Legislation requiring Airbnb and other short-term rental hosting platforms to verify that hosts are legally registered before listing them was approved Tuesday by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

The legislation, introduced by Supervisors David Campos and Aaron Peskin in April, was approved in a 10-0 vote, with Supervisor Mark Farrell recusing himself.

Under the legislation, if hosting platforms fail to verify hosts are properly registered with the Office of Short-term Rentals as required by city law, they can be fined up to $1,000 a day. Only around 25 percent of hosts listing rentals on Airbnb are registered, according to recent city figures.

“This mandates that platforms that engage in short-term rentals support, not hinder the enforcement of our short-term rental law,” Campos said, emphasizing that the law would not directly penalize “mom and pop” hosts:

“It’s not about changing the current law, it’s about enforcing it.”

Airbnb and other short-term rental hosting platforms have come under fire in part due to concerns that they are encouraging hosts to illegally remove units from the rental market for use as full-time hotel rooms.

The company has so far resisted efforts by the city to get it to share information about hosts that would aid in enforcement efforts, and last November spent around $8 million to defeat a ballot measure that would have increased regulations on short-term rentals.

Last week, Airbnb issued a statement arguing that the current legislation conflicts with federal laws protecting internet speech and commerce and could “further confuse the city’s complicated short term rental laws.”

The company has not indicated whether it plans to pursue a legal challenge, but Deputy City Attorney Jonathan Givner said the ordinance has been written to avoid violations of federal regulations. In particular, it has been written so that it does not regulate the content of posts on the web site but instead regulates the business activities of the hosting platforms, he said.

A number of hosts speaking at a hearing last week on the legislation complained that the city’s registration process was complicated and could take several months. In response, Supervisor Scott Wiener introduced an amendment Tuesday, which was unanimously approved, calling for city staff to work to streamline the process:

“The process right now is quite cumbersome.”