The relationship between Airbnb and San Francisco is something like the one between a difficult host and a defiant houseguest. It's... well, it's not great.
In what might have signaled a détente earlier this month, Airbnb revealed (uncharacteristically) a bunch of data that showed 20 percent of its listings are by hosts with multiple homes. That's illegal under the 2014 Airbnb law, and the company vowed to crack down on the practice.
But that's not good enough according to a proposed piece of legislation from Supervisor David Campos. A new law he's outlined would require companies including Airbnb and VRBO to verify that all of their rentals are registered with the city before they're posted online. After all, every registered short term rental receives a registration number, so it's likely that wouldn't be hard. The Chronicle reported news of the proposal, which would call for fines of up to $1,000 per day for unlawfully listed units. And, if you know David Campos, you've already guessed that he's proudly announced where the money gained from fines would go: Toward affordable housing.
"Unless the hosting platforms have a role in enforcement, enforcement is not going to happen,” the Chron quotes Campos “They have to have some skin in the game.” Supervisor Aaron Peskin is also onboard. "We are closing a long-standing loophole by holding the hosting platforms accountable for the hundreds of units (rented by) unscrupulous individuals who have taken multiple units of affordable housing off the rental market,” he added.
There is, however, a question about the legality of holding sites like Airbnb responsible for content posted by their users, one having to do with a a federal law called the Communications Decency Act. Peskin doesn't think it's a question of that: “I believe this has been crafted in a narrow manner that will survive legal challenges,” he also said.
"While others debate the legality of this proposal, Airbnb will continue working with our community to simplify the process and get hosts registered," the company said in a statement to the Chron. “As the only platform collecting and remitting taxes and taking steps to remove unwelcome listings, we look forward to engaging with all stakeholders to find real solutions that accomplish our shared goals of protecting housing.”
Soon after Campos issued his media advisory on the proposal, perhaps not to be outdone, Supervisor Scott Weiner blasted out his own. Weiner's announcement: A routine meeting to discuss enforcement of existing legislation with information from the Office of Short Term Rental, the oversight body formed to check up on adherence to short term rental laws and levy fines. "The Office of Short Term Rentals will present on various statistics, including number of short-term rental registrations, progress on getting more STRs registered, and enforcement efforts against violators," a release stated.
While it's just one anecdote, the overall crackdown on illegal listings does appear to be moving ahead. An interesting Airbnb listing SFist noted — the cheekily-captioned, visually intriguing Lower Haight abode of visual artist Merkley — has been flagged, a fact Merkley shared with San Francisco magazine. "I'm getting the fuck out of San Francisco," he threatened. "They won't let me do what I want to do.... I am fucking tired of it!." Though we can't say for sure, it's possible that Merkley was in violation for renting out a unit that doesn't qualify as his primary residence, as he owns and may primarily inhabit another unit in the building.