Following a preliminary ruling by a federal judge last week suggesting that the court will hold Airbnb responsible for conducting transactions with hosts who are violating San Francisco law, the short-term rental company has done an about-face and said that it will cooperate with the city after all, as the Chronicle is reporting. Chris Lehane, the company's global policy chief, told the paper, "“This is a serious proposal to once and for all address the core issues that exist in San Francisco. We can sit across the table from the city and address the issues in a win-win scenario."
Last Tuesday, U.S. District Judge James Donato ruled against a preliminary injunction sought by Airbnb that would have halted the implementation of a new ordinance passed by SF's Board of Supervisors in June. That ordinance would put Airbnb and competitor Homeaway on the hook for fines of $1000 per day per illegal listing if and when the companies did business with hosts trying to skirt local law. Airbnb had been arguing that the 1996 Communications Decency Act absolved them of responsibility for the content posted by users of the site, however Judge Donato said that because the ordinance was written to specify that a transaction had to take place before a fine was levied, the issue was no longer about content. Donato sent the company and the city back to the negotiating table to come up with a mutually agreeable compromise on enforcement of the so-called Airbnb law, with another hearing scheduled for Thursday, November 17.
Though they've resisted doing so now for several years as SF has sought to legislate against the loss of habitable units from the long-term rental market, Airbnb now tells the Chronicle that they are willing to release names, addresses, and guest stay data from their hosts' accounts in San Francisco, and that they will rejigger the system to disallow hosts from continuing to rent units beyond the city's 90-day per year cap which pertains to the rentals of entire homes or units, but not to hosts who rent out rooms in units they occupy. They will also have to crack down on the thousands of hosts who continue to use the site but have not registered, as they're obligated to do, with the city's Office of Short-Term Rentals, which requires them to pay hotel taxes and Airbnb is reportedly addressing this issue by creating their own online registration system, guaranteeing that all hosts are automatically registered with the city.
Airbnb also says they will prevent the use of their site by owners of units where Ellis Act evictions have taken place. Earlier this year, Airbnb vowed to crack down on hosts in SF who were listing multiple units on the site, which is also illegal, and which they said was being done in 20 percent of listings in SF.
John Coté, spokesperson for City Attorney Dennis Herrera, tells the Chronicle, "We’re encouraged that Airbnb appears to be taking steps to meet their requirements under the law, and we look forward to them coming into full compliance."
Meanwhile, the Board of Supervisors is set this week to discuss making the cap on full-unit rentals even more stringent, 60 days per year down from 90, and perhaps Airbnb is hoping that their willingness to crack down will keep the city from making this move. A previous attempt to curtail rentals and cap full-unit rentals at 75 days per year (Prop F) was rejected by voters in 2015.
In related news, NBC Bay Area is reporting on the problem of SF homeowners who are on the hook for thousands of dollars in city fines because they had tenants who were using Airbnb and other platforms to rent their units illegally. One woman, who received a notice of violation from the city for her condo in Alamo Square, says her total fine is $22,000 despite the fact that it was her tenant who was acting illegally and not her.