Supes approve 60-day limit on short-term rentals

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors Tuesday voted to approve a new 60-night limit on all short-term rentals, even as settlement talks over a lawsuit seeking to block previous short-term rental legislation continued in federal court.

The board voted 7-3 in support of the legislation by Board President London Breed and Supervisor Aaron Peskin, which would impose a 60-night annual cap on all short-term rentals, regardless of whether the host is on-site or not. Current city regulations allow up to 90 nights for un-hosted rentals and 365 nights for hosted rentals.

With supervisors Katy Tang, Scott Wiener and Malia Cohen voting no, however, and Supervisor Mark Farrell abstaining due to financial conflicts, the legislation failed to obtain the eight votes needed to protect it from a possible veto by Mayor Ed Lee. Lee has not said whether he intends to veto the legislation.

Today’s vote came as city attorneys met behind closed doors with attorneys from San Francisco-based Airbnb and Austin, Texas-based HomeAway, Inc. to discuss a lawsuit filed by the companies.

The City has struggled in recent years to regulate the booming short-term rental industry, which critics say gives landlords an incentive to keep housing units off the market.

While Airbnb has agreed to collect city hotel taxes on bookings in San Francisco and made some efforts to remove hosts with multiple listings, the company has so far refused to help enforce a requirement that every host register with The City and obtain a business license. Consequently, city officials say few hosts have bothered to register.

Airbnb sued in federal court in June after a frustrated Board of Supervisors passed legislation that would fine the company for every booking it accepted from unregistered hosts.

U.S. District Judge James Donato earlier this month rejected arguments from the companies that the city law violates their constitutional right of free speech and the U.S. Communications Decency Act.

However, Donato issued a temporary restraining order blocking the law from taking effect and ordered the city and company attorneys to try to work out an effective system for the rental services to determine if an owner has registered a unit. Airbnb has argued that the city’s registration process is too onerous for hosts and difficult for the company to work with.

John Cote, a spokesman for the city attorney’s office, confirmed The City had a settlement conference in the case Tuesday, but said he was legally prohibited from disclosing what was discussed.