As Airbnb and the city of San Francisco spar in court — the company sued the city over a law requiring it to verify the hosts on its platform are legal or else face fines for listing them — Airbnb is making a few changes of its own accord. The Chronicle reports that the homegrown short-term rental company will ban multiple property listings by the same host, a sensible move since it's only legal to Airbnb your own home/primary residence.
"In cities that identify as having housing challenges, we want to find solutions,” Airbnb head of global public policy Chris Lehane told the Chronicle. “Our underlying objective is to get to the policy goal identified by San Francisco of making sure [such illegal] commercial activity is not taking place on our platforms.” A similar move was made in New York, and the company hasn't indicated if it will take such actions in other cities. Exceptions may be requested for hosts that may rent two rooms in one home, etc. The change will take effect on November 1, and Curbed writes that "ostensibly we should see at least 1,450 or so fewer San Francisco Airbnb listings" due to the change.
Political campaign director of the San Francisco Tenants Union Jennifer Fieber seems to suggest that Airbnb's self-policing policies are ineffectual. "There are still 9,000 listings in the city that aren’t registered,” she told the Chronicle. “We want those people’s names to be turned over to the city, and Airbnb has that information.”
The change, though it could be seen as an internal crackdown, might more likely be a rudimentary concession in an ongoing negotiation with San Francisco, part of a reaction to the Board of Supervisors' proposal reported by the Chronicle last week to consider limiting Airbnb rentals to 60-days per year, down from the current 90 and even further down from the 75-day limit of the failed Proposition F.
Airbnb's continued stance that it's just a hands-off platform for listings is an important one for legal reasons, pretty much the company's whole line of argument so far in the case against being fined by San Francisco. Therefor the company's decision to remove illegal listings of multiple properties by the same host is also kind of vexed. While it shows a company willing to cooperate with the city, it also reveals the control Airbnb really can exert over its listings. If Airbnb can remove illegal listings like these, for example, why can't it remove listings after they've been rented for 90 days? What is Airbnb responsible for?
The Chronicle seems to have asked Lehane something like that: “That’s part of a larger question of an effective registration system,” he told the paper, turning the conversation around. “We could have an effective system, including a number that shows up on the site in a straightforward way, if the city was willing to work with us to figure that out.” Sounds like the art of the deal.