The city of San Francisco will be going to court to make sure that homeowners renting units on HomeAway, a short-term rental listing company that also owns Airbnb competitor VRBO, are paying their dues: 14 percent hotel taxes, the likes of which Airbnb began collecting in SF in 2014, and business license registration fees, which the City Treasure has indicated are necessary for short-term rental hosts. So far, efforts have been rebuffed to check up on the rental platform's hosts to verify their compliance. Treasurer Cisneros twice issued a subpoena demanding that HomeAway identify its hosts here and their rental histories, first last October and again this April and neither to any effect. The latest development in the push: City Attorney Dennis Herrera is getting in on it, petitioning San Francisco Superior Court to compel the company to comply with that subpoena.
HomeAway operates out of Austin, Texas and in November of last year was purchased by Travel website Expedia for $3.9 billion. That deal reported by the Wall Street Journal and others appeared as a bid to compete with Airbnb.
"This action is fundamentally about fairness: businesses that follow the law shouldn’t have to compete against law-breakers,” said Herrera by way of a press release. “That principle applies equally to short-term rental hosts who don’t collect taxes, and to the online platforms determined to shield them."
“Our job is to enforce the city’s tax laws,” Cisneros added in the release “Businesses in San Francisco can’t ignore our laws. The transient occupancy tax is due whenever a visitor pays to stay in our city. We want everyone who hosts (visitors) to understand that the tax applies.”
HomeAway, the Chronicle reminds us, sued San Francisco in 2014, basically alleging that they were just a classifieds service and that the real beef was with Airbnb. That case was dismissed. Also, somewhat damningly, HomeAway co-founder Carl Shepherd, who has left the company added to the paper that "the vast majority” of HomeAway’s listings break San Francisco law because they are not residents primary residences, making them illegal.
As he puts it, "All you have to do is say you live there 270 days a year. You do have to lie and you do have to obfuscate. But the city is at a distinct disadvantage because they can’t catch this.”