The Board of Supervisors Tuesday moved to revise the language of some new additions to the so-called 'Airbnb Law' that would fine the company $1,000 per day per illegal unit listed on the site. Amendments to the 2014 law that were approved by the Board of Supervisors in June prompted the vacation rental platform to file a lawsuit against the city claiming that the new fines assessed for publishing listings from unregistered Airbnb hosts violated laws protecting internet companies from liability for the content published by their users.
As the Chronicle reports, progressive Supes David Campos, Aaron Peskin, Eric Mar, and John Avalos jointly introduced the new language for the amendments in the hope of skirting Airbnb's lawsuit. A judge has already put the amendments, which were set to take effect later this month, on pause pending a ruling on Airbnb’s request for a temporary injunction, which won't be heard until September.
Primarily, the revision changes when and why Airbnb would be fined rather than being fined simply for publishing listings by hosts who haven't registered with the city, the language now says Airbnb would be fined $1,000 per transaction once an illegal unit has been rented on the site.
As Campos tells the paper, "These commonsense amendments aim to address some of the legal arguments that Airbnb has made in its lawsuit, and they strengthen the city’s legal position. I think these amendments make the lawsuit moot."
Airbnb has argued that the city shouldn't be requiring every Airbnb host to go through the arcane and complicated business licensing process at City Hall. Additionally, they've argued, "The new law also violates the federal Stored Communications Act, which creates uniform privacy protections for internet users and prevents cities from simply demanding that platforms turn over user information without a subpoena or other legal process."
To the latter point, the revised amendments now say that the Office of Short-Term Rentals can subpoena records from hosting platforms like Airbnb and Homeaway when it discovers possible violations of the city’s law by scofflaw hosts which include people who are renting out entire units full time as short-term hotel rooms, and those who are renting their primary residence on the platform more than the legal 90 days per year.
Regarding yesterday's move to revise the amendments, Airbnb issued a statement remaining staunch in their position, and suggesting that the lawsuit is still on. "The introduction of today's amendment acknowledges the legal infirmities with the city's recent changes to the short-term rental law,” Airbnb says. “The fact remains that the ordinance as it stands today violates federal law, and these new proposed amendments still wouldn't resolve the legal shortcomings that were raised in our complaint. We remain hopeful that we can work together to find solutions that address our shared policy concerns."
Airbnb has faced pushback in cities across the world because of the issue of housing shortages and gentrification. New Orleans passed a similar ordinance outlawing short-term rentals in the French Quarter altogether, and limiting them in the rest of the city to 30 days or more. In New York, you're currently not allowed to rent an entire unit, even if you own it, if you live in a multi-unit building.
As the Business Times reports, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky recently said at a Fortune-sponsored tech conference, "My initial instinct was to avoid cities where we would have conflict," but his perspective has evolved through the fights with SF and New York, where he says the company is trying to get the cities to "see people as businesses" and revise their thinking around that.